House Democrats yesterday deflected criticism that their plan to create a dual committee to oversee funding and oversight for intelligence agencies does not conform to the recommendations of the September 11 commission.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said the hybrid panel is a first step toward reducing the number of committees with oversight over intelligence and homeland security.
“Reducing the number of committees … will happen, but we have to be assured that this panel will work,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
Democrats were criticized by Republicans and some members of their own party last week for veering from the recommendations of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
“The commission recommended a merger of authorization and oversight, and we could not do that because appropriations has to allocate spending to areas of intelligence outside of the intelligence community for the Army, Navy and other armed services,” said Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
Under the plan, intelligence agencies will report to the hybrid panel and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The hybrid panel will have control of agency spending, and the intelligence committee will have oversight.
The hybrid panel, whose members would be appointed by Mrs. Pelosi, would have subpoena powers and be required to issue an annual report on classified and unclassified intelligence spending.
“This is so the intelligence community knows that they are not just dealing with the individual members of the panel, but the speaker of the House,” Mr. Obey said.
Republican leaders said Democrats are playing politics and using smoke and mirrors.
“This is one of the most baffling, incoherent and discombobulated ‘streamlining’ proposals the House has ever seen, and we’re not just talking about catering contracts for the Capitol cafeteria. This is our national security,” said a Republican leadership aide. “Whether this was the result of ineptitude or an inability to make legislation out of a silly campaign sound bite, it’s pretty frightening.”
Democrats are ready to begin House debate on a bill to implement the remaining recommendations of the September 11 commission.
They hope to increase the share of homeland security grants to cities at highest risk of a terrorist attack, and to create a stand-alone grant program to provide first responders with direct communications among different agencies.
“We will have 100 percent cargo screening at airports within three years, 100 percent of in-line baggage screening for explosives in three years, and 100 percent scanning of U.S.-bound shipping containers in five years,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
The bill also creates a U.S. coordinator for the prevention of weapons of mass destruction proliferation and terrorism and a blue-ribbon commission to recommend further reforms strengthening efforts to eliminate nuclear black-market networks.