Congress balks at centralized authority

WASHINGTON -- The push for intelligence reform has hit substantial resistance on Capitol Hill in recent days -- raising questions about whether changes in the U.S. intelligence community recommended by the 9/11 commission will be able to survive the legislative process reasonably intact.
At a series of unusual mid-August hearings, few witnesses or lawmakers have flatly opposed reform. Most have said some change is necessary. Yet many have expressed unease with the 9/11 commission's central recommendation: creation of a powerful national intelligence director with budget and hiring authority over the entire U.S. intelligence community.
The bottom line is that shuffling national intelligence involves profound change in Washington's power structure. That isn't going to happen quickly -- nor should it, say some analysts.
"The proposals put forward in the 9/11 commission report are sufficiently innovative and challenging and novel that they require a lot of debate before we enact them," says Robert Pfaltzgraff, security expert at Tufts University.
Drafting legislation
One thing seems likely: Congress will at least consider some form of intelligence legislation this year. In the Senate, for instance, Republican and Democratic leaders have agreed that Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate who is chairwoman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, will take the lead in producing a bill. Her target date for a draft is Oct. 1.
Yet hers isn't the only panel hard at work during Washington's normally somnolent August. Other Senate committees, such as Armed Services and Intelligence, have held hearings covering aspects of the issue they feel are under their jurisdiction. The House has weighed in, as well.
President Bush has generally embraced some of the 9/11 commission goals. (John Kerry, for his part, has urged their quick approval.) But the administration has been vague on such details as the extent of any national intelligence director's budgetary powers. That's led some Democratic lawmakers to worry that they'll work all summer, only to find their efforts trumped by a fuller administration proposal.
Some GOP lawmakers, for their part, don't think that's a bad thing. "I think it's wise for the Congress to sort of state its goals and then the administration come forward with their program," said Sen. John Warner, R-Va.
Yet with elections looming, some reform proponents think that speed is of the essence. Already there's little time left for Congress to consider major legislation. If intelligence reform is pushed into next year, lawmakers' appetite for change may diminish. "We're going to have to break some china around here. Otherwise we will fail. We will fail," Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-W.Va., told a Senate committee hearing Monday.

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