Secrecy News

Budget Law May “Neuter” Intelligence Oversight

The new budget law that keeps the government open for the next three weeks includes a provision that would permit the transfer and spending of intelligence funds during that period without congressional authorization or approval.

“This language is troublesome for the [Senate intelligence] committee because it would authorize the intelligence community to spend funds ‘notwithstanding’ the law that requires prior authorization by the Senate Intelligence Committee or by the House Intelligence Committee,” said intelligence committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr on Monday.

“Effectively, the intelligence community could expend funds as it sees fit without an authorization bill in place.”

“Let me just say to my colleagues, a situation like this is untenable,” Sen. Burr said. “If you neuter the committee, you neuter our oversight.”

But efforts by Senator Burr and committee vice chairman Senator Mark Warner to modify the provision were blocked by Appropriations Committee chairman Sen. Thad Cochran. He said the controversial language “is included exactly as requested by the administration” and with his support the budget measure was enacted into law.

The provision was first reported last week by Ryan Grim in The Intercept.

The override of normal oversight requirements was requested by the Office of Management and Budget at the urging of the Pentagon, the Washington Examinerreported. See “Provision in shutdown-ending bill stokes fear of oversight-free intelligence spending” by Steven Nelson, January 23, 2018,

An unnamed congressional staffer told the paper that the change mainly pertains to missile defense funds and “does not give the intelligence community a blank check at all.” The staffer also contended that it does not materially affect the role of the intelligence committees.

But the chairman and vice chairman disagree.

“For the next 3 weeks we will have an inability to exercise, in our estimation, the tools that we might need,” Senator Burr said.

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