9-11 panel wants shake up of Congress
The commission investigating the Sept. 11 terror attacks will call for a complete restructuring of the way Congress oversees the nation’s intelligence agencies, according to a person familiar with the recommendations. The panel’s final report, which is to be published Thursday, concludes that “the way Congress conducts oversight is a major part of the problem,” the person told United Press International on condition of anonymity. They added that the report recommends “a complete realignment of the committee structure.” The changes recommended include an end to term limits on membership of the intelligence committees and other changes in the way the panels work designed to make the task of overseeing the nation’s most secret institutions easier.
“We do discuss congressional oversight (of intelligence) at some length in our report,” commission spokesman Al Felzenberg told UPI, “Congress wanted us to look at it. It is in the law” establishing the commission. Roemer added that congressional reform was an integral part of the commission’s mandate to fix the problems exploited by those who carried out the attacks of Sept. 11. “Simply moving boxes around (on the organization chart) or creating new positions won’t work without the other elements. You need the changes to the nuts and bolts and the tradecraft (of the intelligence community); you need the oversight piece,” he said. Neither Felzenberg nor Roemer would comment in any way on the panel’s findings or its recommendations. “You’ll have to wait until Thursday for that,” said Felzenberg. But Roemer, a former democratic congressman from Indiana who served on the House intelligence committee, agreed that term limits were a serious problem that needed addressing. “By the time you’ve found your way around the budgetary process, the compartmentalized and covert operations, you are off (the panel),” he said, adding that this unbalanced the oversight equation very heavily in favor of the intelligence agencies. He pointed out that membership of other, more powerful committees, such as ways and means, which deals with tax, was not term limited. With longer membership, he said, “you build knowledge, you build expertise, you build relationships … You need that experience.”
Almost half the agencies that make up the intelligence community — and more than three-quarters of its budget — are inside the Department of Defense, and overseen by the armed services committees. And the Justice and Judiciary committees in the House and Senate oversee the FBI, so oversight of the community is divided amongst three committees. Roemer said that this overlapping jurisdiction was sometimes exploited by agencies to “short circuit and circumvent” the intent of lawmakers. “Some shared oversight is not a problem,” he said, “but it becomes a convenient and often-used procedure for the agencies to get around the oversight and long-term policy recommendations of the intelligence committee.”
Roemer also said lawmakers were hampered by the need to do so much of their work in secret. “You can’t use the harsh flashlight of public criticism,” to expose the agencies’ shortcomings the way lawmakers on other committees do, he said.