WASHINGTON – President Bush’s plan for a new national intelligence director received a skeptical reception from Congress on Tuesday, as Democrats and Republicans argued denying that official the budgetary authority for intelligence could diminish efforts to improve the nation’s security.

“I am troubled that the recommendation the president is making for the national intelligence director appears to lack the powers that the commission wants it to have,” said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Government Affairs, “particularly the power over the budgets of the constituent intelligence agencies.”

The commission found that many of the nation’s intelligence agencies do not coordinate efforts to track and apprehend terrorists targeting the United States, and that information sharing among agencies is inadequate.

But the commission also recommended that the new intelligence chief be given control over intelligence agency budget requests, and that that the new official “receive an appropriation for national intelligence and apportion the funds to the appropriate agencies.”

Bush instead suggested that the intelligence director would have a say – not direct control – over the budgets.

of the government’s 15 primary intelligence agencies.

In his announcement, the president said that the new director “ought to be able to coordinate budgets.”

During hearings on the commission’s recommendations in both the Senate and the House Tuesday, several notable Republicans said they supported creating the intelligence director post, but not Bush’s decision to limit budget authority.

“Some of us, over time, have proposed the creation of a national intelligence director to oversee all intelligence gathering,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., a former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Someone with total control and accountability. That’s the budget, too.”

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., told the Senate Governmental Affairs committee: “We ought to take the bull by the horns: Create this new national director … and really provide some authority, including budget authority.”

The White House, in an effort to answer questions about the president’s recommendation, has offered several descriptions of the new intelligence job.

In a briefing Monday, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said that whoever fills the position will have “tremendous clout in developing a budget, and for the first time … a person in that position will have an overview of all of the intelligence needs of the country and how they can best be addressed across the agency and be able to make recommendations in the budget process.”

But final say on the budget, Card said, would be left to the president and his budget director.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan appeared to back away from Card’s comments Tuesday, suggesting that some of the particulars will be worked out between the administration and Congress.

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

So far, though, the administration’s description of the new post suggests that the big players among the intelligence agencies – the Departments of Defense and Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency – have retained control over the $35 billion to $40 billion spent annually on intelligence gathering. Currently, the Pentagon accounts for 85 percent of the nation’s intelligence spending.

Advocates of the national intelligence director post argue that wresting control of those funds is a crucial element in the effort to reform the intelligence agencies.

“I think you have to have budget authority,” said Eleanor Hill, who directed the bipartisan Joint Congressional Inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks.

That panel concluded in December 2002 that a new intelligence chief was necessary. “In this town, if you don’t have some clout over the budget or the agencies, you don’t have what it takes to get them to pay attention and turn their priorities around.”

Several of the Sept. 11 commissioners, on a national tour to promote their proposed reforms, suggested Tuesday that Bush’s plan will not fix the intelligence agencies’ troubles.

“No one is going to listen to this individual” without the ability to hire and fire and control budgets, said Slade Gorton, a former Republican senator from Washington state and one of the 10 members of the commission.

“Providing a figurehead is not what we intended,” said Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic commission member and a Washington, D.C., attorney.

The commissioners’ comments were echoed in Congress, where committees convened hurriedly arranged hearings to address the commission’s report and Bush’s proposal. Lawmakers and witnesses alike raised concerns about how much authority a new intelligence director would have without the ability to control spending.

Most of those questions were raised by Democrats, who have seized on the proposed reforms as a way to question the Bush administration’s management of intelligence.

“We have to make sure we’re driven more by 9/11, than by 11/2,” the date of this year’s presidential election, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said at the Senate Governmental Affairs hearing on the commission’s recently released report.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, has called for Congress to adopt all of the commission’s reforms.

“In this city, if you have a fancy title, but you’re not in the chain of command, and you don’t control the budget, you’re a figurehead,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Government Reform.

Commissioner John Lehman, a Republican who served as Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan, told the Government Reform Committee that the new intelligence director, “has to have not just budget coordination power but budget and appropriations and reprogramming power.”

Former Nebraska Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey, also a commissioner, warned that the administration was taking half-hearted steps to achieve intelligence reform.

“If all it is consultative, if all it is advisory, then you’re better off not doing it,” Kerrey said. “You’re better off not taking action if the action produces another agency that doesn’t have real statutory authority.”



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