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After holding the executive branch's feet to the fire to implement the 9/11 Commission reform recommendations in the intelligence agencies, Congress has decided to give itself a pass from enacting any reform on the legislative branch. The New York Times reports that recommendations to streamline intelligence oversight have gone unsupported by members who fear losing influence and power:
In its unanimous final report in July, the commission cataloged years of turf battles and incompetence by the intelligence and counterterrorism agencies, especially the C.I.A. and the F.B.I., and suggested that Congress had to share the blame for the failure to disrupt the Sept. 11 terrorist plot.
"Congressional oversight for intelligence and counterterrorism is now dysfunctional," the report said. "So long as oversight is governed by current Congressional rules and resolutions, we believe the American people will not get the security they need and want."
The commission called either for the creation of a powerful joint Congressional committee on intelligence, combining the separate intelligence committees in the House and Senate, or for keeping the House and Senate committees intact but providing them with appropriation powers, allowing them to guarantee that spy programs backed by the committees would be paid for.
The commission also called for the Homeland Security Department, which now answers to scores of Congressional committees, to be brought under the oversight of single permanent committees in the House and Senate.
But after the release of the Sept. 11 commission's report, lawmakers showed far more enthusiasm for overhauling executive branch spy agencies than for reorganizing themselves, and there is no sign that House or Senate leaders are considering the sort of broad Congressional restructuring recommended by the commission.
Part of the problem relates to the 9/11 Commission's recommendations for the executive branch. Their redesign did not create a single agency for handling intelligence, but rather kept the separate agencies intact while adding more layers of management across all of them to unite them at the top. In taking that direction for "reform", the commission allowed Congress to insist that it needs to address oversight for each organization separately. It's part of the drawbacks of the bureaucratic solution the commission used against which I've repeatedly warned.
Even granting that, the issue does not require Congress to exercise oversight separately. Nothing in the executive-branch reform forces Congress to do anything at all. This appears to be a case of hypocrisy as well as self-righteousness. Congress had no problem hauling 9/11 families in front of cameras to pressure the White House to enact the commission's recommendations in toto, but I'd bet those same victims can't get their calls taken in Congress this week. Why? Because such actions allow Congress to push all of the blame for 9/11 onto the executive branch (of both the Bush and Clinton administrations) and refuse to take any of the responsibility for themselves.
Congress shows itself to be cowardly and shortsighted. They abandoned their legislative responsibilities to the 9/11 Commission in the first place, allowing that unelected board to dictate American policy rather than form their own bipartisan committee to look into 9/11. They pushed the recommendations onto the White House even though they made little sense and actively handicaps the use of intelligence by adding new layers of bureaucracy between the intelligence communities and the President. Now they run away as soon as it becomes their turn to clean their own house. Shameful, but typically so.Sphere It View blog reactions
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