Prospects Fade for a Separate Intelligence Budget

11.01.11 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Corrections added below

The budget for the National Intelligence Program will mostly remain hidden in the Department of Defense budget for the foreseeable future and will not be given a separate budget line item or a separate appropriation, despite the efforts of budget reformers and intelligence community leaders.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had advocated such a move for years, particularly since it would have enhanced the role of the DNI.

“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.

But in a speech (pdf) last month, DNI Clapper indicated that the proposed move had been stymied.  “Ain’t gonna happen,” he said.

A stand-alone budget for the National Intelligence Program would have added clarity and integrity to the budget process.  Currently, most intelligence spending is concealed in the Department of Defense appropriations bill in opaque and misleading line items.  Much of the money is not under the effective control the Secretary of Defense.  Some of it, like the CIA budget, is not Defense Department spending at all.  The whole arrangement is a deliberate subterfuge that is a legacy of the Cold War.

But Congress likes it that way.  The House of Representatives passed language in the 2012 defense appropriations bill that would prohibit a change in the status quo. [To date, however, the Senate has not adopted this position.]

“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 bill said (HR 2219, sect. 8116).

The efforts by DNI Clapper to establish independent funding for the National Intelligence Program have already paid dividends in increased openness.  In 2011, the amount that was requested for the NIP for the following year was voluntarily disclosed for the first time ever.  Disclosure of the budget request, previously opposed by Intelligence Community leaders, was a precondition for a separate NIP budget. [Correction: Disclosure of the budget request was required by statute and was not “voluntary.”]

Now that a separate NIP budget is out of reach and there is no programmatic advantage to be gained from publishing the intelligence budget request, it remains to be seen whether or not the request for the FY2013 NIP budget will be voluntarily released by the DNI next year. [Same correction: disclosure is now required by statute.]

Annual disclosure of the total intelligence budget appropriation, which for decades was a matter of fierce contention, is now utterly routine.

A new report from the Congressional Research Service reviewed “The Intelligence Appropriations Process: Issues for Congress” (pdf), October 27, 2011.