Secrecy News

A New Intelligence Oversight Task for GAO

For the first time in six years, the Government Accountability Office has been asked by a congressional intelligence committee to perform an intelligence oversight-related function.

On March 11, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), an intelligence subcommittee chairwoman, called upon the GAO to review security clearance processes in the intelligence community and to examine the DNI’s pilot project on security clearance reform.

The new assignment potentially represents a breakthrough in the longstanding stalemate over GAO’s role in intelligence oversight. Opposition to GAO oversight in the intelligence community combined with resistance from the congressional committee leadership have effectively sidelined GAO since the intelligence committees submitted their last intelligence-related request to GAO in 2002.

Proponents of an increased intelligence oversight role for GAO (including FAS [pdf] and GAO itself [pdf]) have argued that not only does GAO possess relevant expertise, but that by sharing the oversight burden GAO can free the intelligence committees to focus on more specialized oversight functions.

The new GAO assignment was described in a March 12 news release from Rep. Eshoo.

It was also noted by me in a letter to the editor of the Washington Post on “Extending the GAO’s Reach,” March 31.

The potential role of the GAO in intelligence oversight was addressed in a February 29 hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chaired by Senator Daniel Akaka.