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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Director of National Intelligence Statutory Authorities: Status and Proposals

Richard A. Best Jr.
Specialist in National Defense

Alfred Cumming
Specialist in Intelligence and National Security

In passing the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-458) in 2004, Congress approved the most comprehensive reform of the U.S. intelligence community since it was created over 50 years ago. Principal among enacted changes was the establishment of a new position of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to serve as head of the intelligence community (IC) and principal adviser to the President on intelligence matters related to the national security and to oversee and direct the implementation of the National Intelligence Program.

Some observers have questioned whether the act provides the DNI the authority necessary to effectively carry out these responsibilities. Others assert that the DNI's authorities are significantly stronger than those of the former Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), but suggest that DNIs have failed to aggressively assert the authorities they have been provided.

During his Senate confirmation proceeding in January 2009, DNI Dennis C. Blair said that he would withhold judgment as to whether his authorities were sufficient but over time would advise the President and Congress if he concluded they were not. He also assured Senators that he would exercise his authorities to the fullest. The abrupt announcement of his resignation in May 2010 suggested to some that he had been unable to exercise his authorities to meet his responsibilities and, for some, raised questions about the viability of the DNI position.

In 2007, Admiral Blair's predecessor, DNI Michael McConnell, acknowledged his authorities were stronger than those of the DCI and conceded that he had not issued certain guidance to the IC clarifying the new authorities (the subsequent 2008 revisions to EO 12333, initiated by DNI McConnell, were intended to provide such guidance). Nevertheless, he argued that effectively managing the IC would require authorities in addition to the ones Congress approved in 2004.

Responding to the these concerns, the Senate Intelligence Committee strengthened DNI authorities in the FY2008 Intelligence Authorization bill (S. 1538; S.Rept. 110-75) by providing the DNI authority to conduct accountability reviews of significant IC failures, address interagency information sharing deficiencies, and approve interagency funding of national intelligence centers.

In contrast, the House Intelligence Committee provided more limited authority enhancements, asserting that the DNI had failed to assume a more directive role in coordinating the IC. Conferees agreed to a compromise package of enhancements (H.Rept. 110-478), but President George W. Bush vetoed the final overall legislation, citing non-related reasons. In the FY2009 intelligence authorization bill, both committees again provided enhancements virtually identical to those approved by each chamber a year earlier. Although the House approved its version of the authorization bill, the Senate did not act on its reported bill, leaving the IC without an authorization bill in FY2009. FY2010 legislation containing similar reforms has been passed by both chambers but a conference report has not yet been completed.

While the DNI's authorities are stronger than those that were available to the DCI, whether they are sufficient to implement the 2004 intelligence reforms mandated by Congress, it has been argued, will continue to depend on several factors, including the degree to which the authorities themselves are adequate, the DNI's willingness to assert those authorities, and the extent to which the DNI receives presidential and congressional support. This implies an important oversight role for the 111th Congress.

Date of Report: May 26, 2010
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: RL34231
Price: $29.95

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