One of the least understood “reforms” by the House of Representatives’ Democratic leadership was its creation last year of a Select Intelligence Oversight Panel within the House Appropriations Committee.
In these days when the intelligence budget is one of the few still growing, this new panel is especially important. On top of that, it is considering one of the few big new classified satellite programs, known as BASIC, being considered by the Pentagon and the Director of National Intelligence.
So I wanted to make sure we all knew just what this panel actually does. We asked someone who works with the panel. First – and most important to those who know about the tremendous battles over money and power between the military and IC -- the panel oversees all intelligence activities and it does not matter whether the funding comes from the Military Intelligence Program budget or the National Intelligence Program budget. This makes the House panel, led by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) (that's him in the photo), the only single body in the House and Senate responsible for overseeing all intelligence funding. The Senate Select Intelligence Committee only oversees the National Intelligence Program, which mostly covers so-called strategic systems, such as the NRO’s radar satellites.
The Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee oversees both defense and intelligence spending. Traditionally, defense spending has trumped intelligence spending when it comes to the number of subcommittee staff involved and in terms of who gets what. In other words, if the Pentagon wants funding for an intelligence function and it’s a question of whether the military gets it or the CIA or DNI want it, the military is likely to get what it wants.
On top of being the only panel exclusively responsible for overseeing all intelligence spending, the panel makes annual recommendations to the House Appropriations defense subcommittee about classified defense appropriations. On top of that, the panel works with the senior leaders of the overall appropriations committee on all intelligence matters. So members and their staff can try to modify legislation at any point in the House’s lawmaking process, through to and including floor action.
Footnote – for those who grew up with the old triptych of national intelligence, the Joint Military Intelligence Program and the Tactical Intelligence and Related Activities (known as TIARA), things have changed. Now there’s just national or military intelligence money. And that is being set in legislative stone in the pending intelligence authorization and spending bills.