- The Washington Times - Friday, September 17, 2004

President Bush yesterday made his own contribution to the snowstorm of intelligence-reform legislation, sending to Capitol Hill a bill that would create the post of an intelligence director with broad budgetary and personnel powers over the nation’s intelligence agencies.

Although the bill does not go quite as far as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States recommended, it strips from the secretary of defense almost all his authority over the four most expensive intelligence agencies — those that build, maintain and run the nation’s spy satellites and other eavesdropping facilities.

Under the president’s bill — which joins more than a dozen other proposals knocking elbows in Congress — the director would “develop and determine an annual consolidated … budget” for all the agencies in the National Foreign Intelligence Program, including the four inside the Department of Defense.

Currently, the secretary of defense’s desk is the last on which the budgets for those agencies rest before being sent to the White House.

According to the bill, the director also would have the power to “transfer or reprogram … funds among appropriations … as necessary.” Although the director must seek the approval of the director of the Office of Management and Budget, he or she only has to consult the secretary of defense before moving money around.

Currently, the secretary’s concurrence is necessary.

The bill also would give the director broad personnel authority — the right to be consulted about the appointment of the head of any intelligence agency and the power to block lower-level appointments altogether.

The director also would be empowered to set training and educational standards and impose a common system of security clearances on the disparate and sometimes fractious agencies that make up the nation’s so-called intelligence community.

The bill is likely to be welcomed by advocates of reform, but will come as a blow to those lawmakers — generally speaking, members of the armed services committees of both chambers — who have argued that stripping the defense secretary of these authorities might imperil the ability of U.S. troops to get the intelligence they need.

The bill also would establish a national counterterrorism center with the authority to plan anti-terrorist activities across the whole gamut of government, including diplomatic, financial and military ones.

The center could assign the operational responsibility for carrying out these plans to whichever agency it felt best suited, but “shall not direct the execution of operations.”

“This is the president’s plan for intelligence reform,” said White House spokeswoman Erin Healy. “It is our good-faith effort to work with Congress and get a bill into law this year.”

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