Richard A. Best Jr.
Specialist in National Defense
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.
The FY2010 Intelligence Authorization Act (P.L. 111-259), signed by President Obama on October 7, 2010, provided a number of enhancements to the DNI’s authorities. He is required to assess personnel levels at all intelligence agencies and forward them to Congress at the same time as the President’s budget submission. He is also required to undertake initial vulnerability assessments of each major system and is provided with authority to assess critical cost growth in major systems and terminate programs unless Congress is provided with an explanation. The DNI is further granted authority to conduct accountability reviews of elements of the Intelligence Community. These new authorities enhance those included in the Intelligence Reform Act and provide the DNI with additional tools to coordinate all intelligence agencies.
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. The provisions in the FY2010 Intelligence Authorization Act permit more extensive congressional oversight in the 112th Congress.
Date of Report: December 16, 2011
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: RL34231
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