President Bush yesterday told members of Congress he supports giving a new national intelligence director budgetary control over much of the nation’s intelligence community, a key provision in the September 11 commission’s recommendations.
“We believe that there ought to be a national intelligence director who has full budgetary authority,” Mr. Bush said in a meeting with more than 20 senators and representatives from both parties. “I look forward to working with the members to get a bill to my desk as quickly as possible.”
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States issued a report this summer with 41 recommendations for national security. Congressional leaders yesterday said they aim to produce security legislation before they adjourn.
A key recommendation of the commission was the creation of a post for a Senate-confirmed national intelligence director who would oversee the intelligence community, have the power to hire and fire deputies such as the CIA director, and control the budgets of the various intelligence agencies.
Mr. Bush supported that general idea, but until yesterday had stopped short of endorsing full budget authority for the director.
The president initially called only for the director to be able to coordinate the budgets. His spokesman later said he would discuss the matter with Congress.
In calling for legislation yesterday, White House officials also said the Bush administration is implementing or addressing 36 of the commission’s 41 recommendations. Of the remaining five commission recommendations, the administration endorses two — which call for changes to congressional oversight of intelligence and homeland security — and is studying three.
Leaders in both the House and Senate said they will produce legislation before they adjourn next month.
“I think the House and Congress will want to express themselves on everything, rather than leave it up to executive order,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said lawmakers will look at what the administration has done and “see how much legislation is required.”
Getting agreement on a single proposal likely will be a major challenge. Several House and Senate members have introduced bills to implement the commission’s recommendations.
House Democrats yesterday introduced a bill to implement all 41 of the commission’s recommendations. The bill is similar to legislation introduced Monday by Sens. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, John McCain, Arizona Republican, and other senators.
Mr. Frist said the McCain-Lieberman bill could be the base bill in the Senate, but that decision ultimately will be made by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.
Meanwhile, House Democrats said Mr. Bush and congressional Republicans have squandered time and should sign on to their bill and act on it immediately.
“That sense of urgency is what is missing,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
“To get a bill in the House, I think the political reality is the president needs to support these 41 recommendations,” said Rep. Jim Turner of Texas, the top Democrat on the Select Committee on Homeland Security.
Some have called for a more cautious approach. On Monday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warned that hasty restructuring of U.S. intelligence agencies in the aftermath of the September 11 commission’s report could damage national security.