- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

September 11 commission members said yesterday that Congress must use their report to justify taking more power and oversight from the White House as the two branches go about reorganizing domestic security and intelligence.

“What Congress needs to do is to see this as a moment when you’ve got to push back on the executive branch. You need more power and authority,” said commission member Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic senator from Nebraska.

He and John F. Lehman, secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, told the House Government Reform Committee that President Bush’s announcement on Monday that he supports creating a national intelligence director (NID) and a national counterterrorism center is a welcome step, but Congress must make sure that the NID has enough authority to do the job.

The five Republicans and five Democrats on the commission have been pushing to make sure their report, released two weeks ago, spurs action in Congress and from the president.

Yesterday’s hearing on the commission report was the first before a House committee and came as the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee held its second hearing. Because Congress is in recess for August, the crowded hearing schedule is unusual.

Republicans have said they will move quickly but cautiously to review the recommendations, while Democrats have called for them to go faster and further, led by presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, who embraced the recommendations in total.

That complete acceptance, said John Brennan, director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, would be a mistake.

“Are the recommendations of 9/11 workable, are they doable in totality? I don’t think they are,” Mr. Brennan told the Senate committee yesterday.

“I don’t think we would do a service to this nation if we took these as they’re stated and ran with them with haste. I just don’t think that there is sufficient engineering, design, consideration of all the complexities here,” he said.

So far the major battle appears to be over how much authority the new NID will have. Democrats, the commission’s 10 members and some Republicans say there’s not much point in creating the new position if that person won’t have the authority to hire and fire employees and to control the more than $40 billion that the government spends each year on intelligence activities.

On Monday, White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. said the NID would have “an awful lot of input into the development of any budgets in the intelligence community,” although he wouldn’t say the position would have control.

Yesterday, the White House appeared to open itself up to more than that possibility.

“As we move forward with Congress, we’ll be talking in more detail about the authority that this person will have. But the national intelligence director will have the authority he or she needs to do the job,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said yesterday.

Pressed by reporters, though, Mr. McClellan would not say there will be give-and-take with Congress, instead saying the administration will “be providing more detail as we move forward on this.”

“Obviously, when you’re talking about something that requires congressional action, you’re going to work closely with Congress on those matters. But the president made very clear his commitment to making sure that we had a national intelligence director that has the authority and power he or she needs to do the job,” Mr. McClellan said.

Mr. Lehman said he thought the administration eventually will embrace budget authority for the NID. He said the problem is that Mr. Bush must placate some members of his own administration right now.

“By the end of the process, I’m confident that the word ‘coordinate,’ while it might still be there, will be subservient to ‘direct’ in the executive sense, because those powers must be given. And I don’t believe the president will oppose them,” Mr. Lehman said. “I think, unlike the rest of us, he has a whole administration that he’s got to kind of herd along and keep consensus in.”

Mr. Kerrey said every government board that has studied the issue has concluded that there should be an intelligence chief with more authority, but the recommendation never goes anywhere because of turf battles with the military committees in Congress and with the Department of Defense (DOD), which controls a sizable portion of intelligence gathering outside of the CIA’s purview.

“If they win one more time, if the DOD wins one more time, then next time, there’s a dust-up and there’s a failure, don’t call the director of central intelligence up here. Kick the crap out of DOD, because they’re the one with the statutory authority over budget,” Mr. Kerrey said.

The outstanding question is how dug in the White House is over protecting its authority. Although the commission laid out a broad blueprint for reforms in the executive branch, Mr. Lehman and Mr. Kerrey made it clear yesterday that Congress also must reform itself to take a more intense role.

“The most important thing to do is to fix the congressional issues,” Mr. Lehman said.

The two men want Congress to create a joint House-Senate committee to oversee intelligence. Right now, each chamber has its own.

“It is a much stronger position, Congress versus the executive branch, than perhaps the executive branch would want,” Mr. Kerrey said. “But from my evaluation, the stronger, the better.”

He said the executive branch needs that oversight and added that, in recent months, that role was being filled by the September 11 commission and now must be turned over to Congress.

That’s one reason why Mr. Kerrey disagreed with those, chief among them Democratic nominee Mr. Kerry, who are calling for the commission’s term to be extended.

“I love John Kerry, and I intend to vote for him. My confidence in him was shaken when he said that we ought to work for 18 more months,” Mr. Kerrey said.

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