An intelligence reform proposal to establish a stand-alone budget appropriation for intelligence spending would be blocked if a provision in the House version of the Fiscal Year 2012 defense appropriations bill is enacted into law. Instead, intelligence spending would remain concealed in the defense budget.
“None of the funds appropriated in this or any other Act may be used to plan, prepare for, or otherwise take any action to undertake or implement the separation of the National Intelligence Program budget from the Department of Defense budget,” the House Appropriations Committee said in section 8118 of the pending 2012 defense bill (H.R. 2219).
If adopted in the final version of the bill, this measure would scuttle the possibility of a separate budget appropriation for intelligence — a reform that was specifically advocated by the 9/11 Commission and embraced by the current Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper.
“To combat the secrecy and complexity we have described,” the 9/11 Commission wrote in chapter 13 (pdf) of its final report, “the overall amounts of money being appropriated for national intelligence and to its component agencies should no longer be kept secret. Congress should pass a separate appropriations act for intelligence, defending the broad allocation of how these tens of billions of dollars have been assigned among the varieties of intelligence work.”
A separate appropriation for intelligence has also been advocated by public interest groups since it would increase the transparency and the integrity of the budget process. In particular, it would eliminate the deception involved in presenting non-DoD intelligence spending (such as the CIA budget) as if it were part of the defense budget, while also misrepresenting the actual amount of the DoD budget.
For his own reasons, DNI Clapper initiated a process of removing the national intelligence budget from its concealment in the defense budget over a year ago. “I would support and I’ve also been working [on] actually taking the National Intelligence Program [NIP] out of the DoD budget,” he said at his July 2010 confirmation hearing. Doing so would “serve to strengthen the DNI’s hand in managing the money in the intelligence community,” he explained.
“The proposal to separate the NIP portion of the Defense budget was [intended] to provide greater visibility and oversight of NIP resources, as well as improve NIP financial management practices,” said Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers last February in answer to questions (pdf) from the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Mr. Vickers said at that time that “no final decisions have been made on removing the NIP from the DoD budget.” But a Congressional Research Service report (pdf) last month said that “[DNI] Clapper has announced plans to take the NIP out of the DOD budget beginning in 2013.”
Now that prospect may be in doubt. The House Appropriations Committee did not provide any explanation for its move to block a separate budget appropriation for intelligence, but an obvious inference is that any change in the status quo could entail a reduction in the jurisdiction and budget authority of the defense appropriations subcommittee.
It appears that the Committee’s priority is to prevent any reduction or alteration in its legislative turf, even if this means sacrificing the accuracy and integrity of the budget process.
Before a separate budget line item for intelligence could even be considered, there were two prerequisites: declassification of the annual appropriation for intelligence and of the coming year’s budget request. Both of those steps have now been accomplished.