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Congressional fight gives peek at intelligence spending
“My impression is that Congress tends to delegate most of the subject to the committee members, and to follow the committee’s lead,” Mr. Aftergood said. “The committees, for their part, do seem to take the subject seriously and tend to do their homework, but I would be surprised if a majority of the members of Congress actually read the classified annexes that the White House is objecting to.”
Still, some fights have gone public.
Mr. Aftergood said the director of national intelligence, the administration’s top intelligence coordinator, has been pushing for a reduction in commercial-satellite imagery as a way of cutting costs. But Congress and the industry have fought back.
Taxpayers, however, are largely left out of the fight, having to trust the judgment of the select few members of Congress who invest themselves in the debate — and to trust the lobbyists seeking the government contracts that are doled out.
“That’s one of the defects in the intelligence-budget process — the playing field is skewed in favor of the beneficiaries,” Mr. Aftergood said. “There may be programs that I would oppose if I knew about them.”
Another fight the White House raised in its policy statement involved reporting requirements.
The administration said having to file so many reports with Congress eats up valuable resources, and asked to be released from 30 reports. The intelligence committee repealed just six of the requirements, saying that receiving reports is one way Congress is able to keep tabs on the otherwise murky world of the intelligence community.
A White House spokesman didn’t reply to a request for comment Thursday on the administration’s objections.
Unlike many other bills, the White House did not issue a veto threat on this legislation. The policy bill doesn’t actually spend money, but authorizes the programs that the appropriations committee will fund later.
Underscoring the sensitivity of the matters at hand, the Republican leaders refused to let many amendments even be debated on the chamber floor.
“If we were to debate some of these amendments, we’d be put in the impossible position of supporting or opposing amendments based on facts we simply can’t discuss for reasons of national security,” said Rep. Richard B. Nugent, Florida Republican.
That meant the House never got to debate amendments that would have called for studying whether intelligence data centers could be consolidated to save money, nor did they consider amendments that would have restricted targeted killings or required the government to release the number of Americans who have had their communications monitored by the government in recent years.
The nine amendments that were allowed to come to the floor were all adopted by voice vote, and not a single member spoke out against any of them. They spanned less-thorny issues, such as urging the intelligence community to protect civil liberties or religious and ethnic minorities and allowing information-sharing with Mexico and Canada on drug-trafficking and border security.
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Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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