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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Intelligence Authorization Legislation: Status and Challenges

Richard A. Best Jr.
Specialist in National Defense

Since President Bush signed the FY2005 Intelligence Authorization bill (P.L. 108-487) in December 2004, no subsequent intelligence authorization legislation was enacted until the FY2010 bill was signed by President Obama in October 2010 (after the end of FY2010) becoming P.L. 111-259. Although the National Security Act requires intelligence activities to be specifically authorized, this requirement has been satisfied in recent years by one-sentence catchall provisions in defense appropriations acts authorizing intelligence activities. This procedure meets the statutory requirement but has, according to some observers, weakened the ability of Congress to oversee intelligence activities.

Annual intelligence authorization acts were first passed in 1978 after the establishment of the two congressional intelligence committees and were enacted every year until 2005. These acts provided specific authorizations of intelligence activities and were accompanied by reports that provided detailed guidance to the nation’s intelligence agencies. However, in practice, the absence of intelligence authorization acts has meant that key intelligence issues have been addressed in defense authorization acts and defense appropriations acts that focus primarily on the activities of the Department of Defense.

Several members have maintained that this procedure has been characterized by misplaced priorities and wasteful spending estimates that could run into billions. One example is the eventual cancellation of a highly classified and very costly overhead surveillance system that had been approved without support from the two intelligence committees.

Some also argue that the ability to link together the collection and analytical efforts of intelligence agencies must extend well beyond the Defense Department given the challenges of the 21
st century and that intelligence authorization legislation is essential to ensure the effectiveness of this linkage. When Congressional approval of intelligence programs is limited to defense authorizations and appropriations legislation, the result arguably can be an overemphasis on military missions by the Intelligence Community.

Other observers counter, however, that, even without intelligence authorization acts, Congress makes its views known to the Intelligence Community and that defense authorization and appropriations acts provide adequate legislative authority for major acquisition efforts of agencies that are in large measure integral parts of the Defense Department.

Although the October 2010 legislation was enacted too late to authorize spending during FY2010, the Act did include long-sought legislation provisions and reflected congressional determination to return to annual intelligence authorization acts.

Date of Report: January 20, 2011
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: R40240
Price: $29.95

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