Congress takes hard look at 9/11 reforms

Some members want changes at Homeland Security. Critics also eye national intelligence office.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

When Congress launched after 9/11 the biggest government reorganization since the Great Depression, it had a single aim: Make the nation's security watchdogs nimbler.

To do that, it created two agencies: the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the office of the National Intelligence Director (DNI). But this week, Congress took a hard look at both creations - and found them wanting.

Thursday, senators called the government's response to hurricane Katrina an "extreme failure of leadership that cost lives and multiplied the anguish of the storm's survivors." And the bid by national intelligence director John Negroponte to dramatically increase the size of his office drew a House rebuke.

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On Wednesday, the House voted nearly $1 billion to expand the DNI office as part of its annual intelligence bill, but "fenced in" about 20 percent of it. Lawmakers want proof that the office will make the 16 intelligence agencies it oversees more effective. To them, that means the DNI should be setting direction, but not taking on the intelligence functions of the organizations it was created to streamline.

"The Committee has concern that the DNI is pursuing a path that will make the ODNI less an intended 'orchestration mechanism,' and more another layer of large, unintended and unnecessary bureaucracy," wrote the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, in its report with the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007.

The aim of the new office was to think differently, act differently, and be more flexible. "It's a fence, not a cut," says Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R) of Michigan, chair of the House Intelligence panel, who describes the funds held back as "big enough that it's caught the attention of the DNI."

"I've never been as concerned about our nation's security as I am this week," said Jane Harman (D) of California, the ranking Democrat on the panel. "We still don't have a handle on Al Qaeda," she said. "Our intelligence reorganization is in a slow start-up, and the CIA is in free fall." The longest-serving member on the committee, she voted against the annual intelligence authorization bill for the first time, citing inadequate oversight on government leaks, warrantless wiretaps, and inadequate protections for civil liberties.

Much of the annual intelligence bill is classified and can't be discussed on the floor. But the committee did reveal that the budget for DNI is nearly $1 billion. Mr. Negroponte is requesting a total of 1,539 people to staff the DNI office.

"We never thought they would need so many people," says Rep. John Murtha (D) of Pennsylvania. "That's what worries us: That they're becoming just another bureaucracy. Intelligence gets sanitized at every new level."

The budget request also drew flags in the Senate, which has yet to take up the request. When senators first proposed a reorganization of the nation's intelligence agencies, they anticipated a small office with a strong leader at the head. "...We talked about 100, maybe 200, not a big staff," says Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California, one of the sponsors of the 2004 intelligence reform. "This apparatus is being bloated."

Senators raised similar concerns about bureaucratic dysfunction in the wake of Katrina. A report by the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs calls to abolish FEMA and replace with a new national disaster agency. The panel's chairman, Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine, says it is "highly unlikely" the agency will be ready for hurricane season.

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