Holding the Government Accountable

Congress Compromises with Executive Branch on Oversight of Intel Community

The Senate last week approved the FY 2010 Intelligence Authorization Act, signaling that Congress has reached a compromise with the executive branch on the issue of oversight of the intelligence community.

But did the legislative branch give up too much?

In lieu of a provision directly clarifying the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) authority to conduct oversight of the intelligence community, the Act requires the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to issue a written directive that will govern the GAO’s access to intelligence community information.

While the provision does require the DNI to consult with the Comptroller General—the top watchdog at the GAO—in crafting the directive, POGO worries that the provision leaves the DNI with far too much authority to determine what Congress can and cannot see, and is an inadequate substitute for the provision that drew a veto threat from the White House back in March.

Senator Dianne Feinstein’s, (D-CA) description of the new provision, Section 348, certainly doesn’t allay our concerns:

Section 348 represents a compromise that the Congress and the administration can support. It requires the Director of National Intelligence, DNI, to issue a directive on GAO access. While the directive shall be issued following consultation with the Comptroller General, the amendment is clear that this is to be the DNI's directive (Emphasis POGO’s).

Senator Feinstein goes on to say that the relevant congressional committees will be able to have a look at the directive before it goes into effect, at which point Congress can take legislative action if it sees fit. But if the past is any indicator, you can bet that—despite a well-documented need for additional oversight—the intelligence community, with the help of the White House, will fight tooth and nail to keep its operations under the radar.