Richard F. Grimmett
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
In May 2011, Congress passed the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY2011,
which did contain a classified schedule of authorizations; on June 8, the
President signed the bill and it became P.L. 112-18. In December 2011,
both the House and Senate passed H.R. 1892, the Intelligence Authorization
for FY2012, which also contained a classified schedule. H.R. 1892 was signed
into law by the President on January 3, 2012 (P.L. 112-87). The passage of
these two bills appears to reflect a determination to underscore the
continuing need for specific annual intelligence authorization
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 21st 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 continue to provide
adequate legislative authority for major acquisition efforts of agencies
that are in large measure integral parts of the Defense Department. Even with renewed
enactment of intelligence authorization legislation in 2010 and 2011 many
important intelligence issues are addressed in defense authorization and
Date of Report: June 1, 2012
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R40240
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