- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2004

Some advocates of restructuring U.S. intelligence agencies say they are increasingly doubtful that Congress will vote on proposed changes before the Nov. 2 election.

“I am hopeful but not optimistic that we will get the legislation we need” to implement changes, said Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican.

In particular, some blame House leaders for failing to develop a work plan that defines the roles of the many committees with jurisdiction over the changes proposed by the September 11 commission.

“I feel that the Senate is doing a much better job,” said Rep. Jane Harman of California, the senior Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States made recommendations for a series of sweeping changes to the way U.S. intelligence is run and the way Congress exercises its duty of oversight. Although the administration plans to implement some proposals through presidential orders — and began to do so Friday — fundamental restructuring of U.S. intelligence requires legislation, and reforming oversight means changing the way Congress is organized.

Mrs. Harman pointed out that the Republican and Democratic leadership in the Senate had worked together to give primary jurisdiction on restructuring intelligence leadership to one committee, which had set legislative deadlines, and had established a bipartisan task force to examine proposals for the reform of congressional oversight.

“We’re not even close to that” on the House side, she said, adding that the summer hearings had been “informative” but “there are no markup sessions [scheduled] in the House, there’s no consensus legislation in the House, and there’s no primary committee designated in the House.”

September 11 commission member John Lehman agreed. “So far, there’s been no movement in the House that we know of,” he said.

A House Republican staffer on one key committee said there would be no progress until the summer recess ends next week, when leaders of both parties would be able to assess the effects of the national conventions and get feedback from members on the state of opinion in their home districts.

“You’re not going to get a clear idea of where the Democratic Caucus or the GOP Conference is going until members return [after Labor Day],” the staffer said.

Even less progress has been made on the issue of reorganizing Congress itself.

The 22-member task force established in the Senate has not met, though aides say staff have begun looking at restructuring plans. The task force is charged with reporting by mid-September to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, and Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota.

“This needs to be done yesterday,” said a Democratic Senate aide, adding that he hoped “our colleagues in the House will also begin to move” on this aspect of the reform agenda.

Reorganizing oversight is expected to be the most contentious element of the commission’s recommendations.

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