House Democrats Planning New Intelligence Oversight

House Democrats Planning New Intelligence Oversight
December 15th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: House Democrats Planning New Intelligence Oversight

House Democrats Planning New Intelligence Oversight
New York Times
December 15, 2006
Pg. 36

By Carl Hulse
WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 — Responding to a recommendation from the Sept. 11 commission, the incoming House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said Thursday that House Democrats would create a new type of committee to better scrutinize spending on the nation’s intelligence efforts.
The select committee, which would include the lawmakers who set intelligence policy as well as those who oversee the intelligence budget, is intended to address a central commission finding that Congressional oversight of intelligence matters was dysfunctional and needed to be more centralized. The committee will review intelligence spending requests, conduct hearings, make financing recommendations and assess how the money is spent.
The initiative is the latest indication from the Democratic leadership that it intends to be aggressive in the opening weeks of Congress, when the party coming into power may have its best opportunity to push through major changes.
“It’s with really some degree of excitement, frankly, that I make this proposal,” said Ms. Pelosi, who served on both the Appropriations and Intelligence Committees. “I know it will make the American people safer.”
After the Sept. 11 commission issued its report in 2004, the Republican-led Congress explored the idea of making in-house changes sought by the panel. But few were seriously pursued after lawmakers ran into the traditional resistance from senior members of Congress unwilling to surrender any authority.
The Democratic proposal, which would apply to the House only, does not go as far as the commission recommended, but one member of the panel welcomed it on Thursday as a substantive step.
“I think it is a creative, bold solution,” said Timothy J. Roemer, a former Democratic congressman who served on the panel and consulted with lawmakers on the new committee. “You can’t point to the F.B.I. to clean up its culture and ask the C.I.A. to improve human intelligence without cleaning up your own backyard.”
In another major break with House practice, Ms. Pelosi also formally announced that Democrats, with Republican cooperation, would form a task force to study ways the House could establish an independent entity to enforce House ethics rules.
“There’s no question that the ethics process in the past couple of years has lost the confidence of the American people,” said Ms. Pelosi, referring to a string of corruption cases that drew little response from the internal ethics panel, which has members from both parties.
Earlier this week, the leadership also announced that it would not try to complete a series of spending bills left on the table by Republicans. This would result in the unusual stalling of thousands of pet projects sought by lawmakers.
The new intelligence committee would be established through proposed changes in House rules to be presented to lawmakers when the 110th Congress convenes on Jan. 4. Under the Democratic proposal, it would consist of members of the Intelligence Committee as well as the Appropriations Committee and make recommendations to the full Appropriations Committee.
Advocates of the approach say it should provide some “cross-pollination” that will lead to lawmakers’ gaining more expertise and depth of knowledge about intelligence activities, giving them a greater ability to monitor operations and suggest changes.
Ms. Pelosi said the plan “removes the barriers between the House appropriators and authorizers, makes the oversight stronger.”
“What we are doing, I think, is quite remarkable and new,” she said.
Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader, was noncommittal about the intelligence plan. He said he would “take a look at her proposal and confer with my colleagues about it.”
The proposal would have to be approved by the entire House. Democrats, if they are united on the plan, would be able to override even unanimous opposition from Republicans in the new Congress.
Mr. Boehner took the opportunity to take a jab at Ms. Pelosi, accusing her of backtracking on a high-profile campaign pledge to adopt all of the remaining recommendations of the commission that Republicans resisted. The commission, for instance, had proposed a new joint House-Senate intelligence panel.
But Ms. Pelosi said it would not be possible to follow all the ideas suggested and indicated that Democrats, after pushing through the new internal rules, would immediately turn to other commission recommendations.
“We’ll go them one better on port security, where we have even tougher proposals to screen 100 percent of the containers long before they reach U.S. shores,” she said.
Senate Democrats have been less enthusiastic about making such changes, but the House action could step up pressure for a new approach to intelligence matters across the Rotunda as well. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, said last week that he would consult committee chairmen to see what recommendations could be enacted.
On the ethics task force, Democrats said its findings on an independent watchdog would be due March 15. Ms. Pelosi said the group should determine how such an enforcement arm might work.

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