Search Penny Hill Press

Monday, September 24, 2012

Intelligence Authorization Legislation: Status and Challenges

Richard F. Grimmett
Specialist in International Security

Rebecca S. Lange
Air Force Fellow

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.

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 legislation.

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 appropriations acts.

Date of Report: September 18, 2012
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: R40240
Price: $29.95

To Order:

R40240.pdf  to use the SECURE SHOPPING CART


Phone 301-253-0881

For email and phone orders, provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.