Goss Steps Down From Intel Committee Helm

President Bush's newly minted CIA boss-pick Rep. Porter Goss (search) stepped down Wednesday from the helm of the House Intelligence Committee (search).

Diffusing a potential controversy, Goss, R-Fla., stepped down at the start of a hearing to examine the nation's intelligence community in light of the Sept. 11 commission's (search) report.

"As a result of the honor bestowed upon me by the president today, nominating me for the position of director of central intelligence, I believe it's appropriate to relinquish my position as chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence during the pendency of the confirmation process of that nomination effective immediately," Goss said, reading the letter that he wrote to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert on Tuesday.

Goss will remain a member of the committee, and participated in Wednesday's hearing, praising the work of the commission.

"I remain very grateful to Commissioners Kean and Hamilton and the rest of the 9/11 commission and their staff for a thoughtful and dedicated service," Goss said. "I think it's an excellent presentation worth everybody's time, and I am very proud that this committee was the paternal and maternal committee of setting up the commission to do their work."

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., who was acting as chair at the committee hearing, praised Goss at the hearing. "I applaud the president's choice and I applaud the president's timing, and I hope for swift confirmation. In the eyes of many, this is the silly season in our arena. Let us hope that partisanship won't rear its ugly head during the Senate proceedings."

Republicans have almost universally supported the president's choice for CIA chief, while Democrats have been generally cautious to negative in their reactions. Ranking member Jane Harman of California, who was copied on the letter to Hastert, however, called Goss' resignation as chairman a "bittersweet moment."

"It is the first hearing in eight years in which Porter Goss will not serve as our chairman. Congressman Goss and I certainly have had occasional differences, but we've also had many good and productive times."

Harman also took the opportunity to criticize the president on his position on the commission's recommendations.

"The country is waiting for the president to demonstrate that he is truly committed to the 9/11 commission recommendations. In announcing Mr. Goss's nomination yesterday, I believed he missed an opportunity to offer strong support for implementing the 9/11 commission recommendations, and I am concerned that some, even some on this committee, are advocating a go-slow approach," she said.

The position of CIA director has traditionally been non-partisan, and the selection of Goss, a moderate Republican, has caused concern among some Democrats. Goss opposed the establishment of the Sept. 11 commission, and some Democrats say they are concerned that as head of the CIA, he will resist reforms called for by the panel.

"The selection of a politician — any politician, from either party — is a mistake," ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Sen. Jay Rockefeller (search), D-W.Va., said in a statement Tuesday after learning about the nomination.

"Having independent, objective intelligence going to the president and the Congress is fundamental to America's national security. The Intelligence Committee's findings in our investigation of prewar intelligence made that abundantly clear," Rockefeller continued.

"You must keep the politics out of intelligence," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. 

Separately, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle stressed the need for rapid reform and hoped Goss would embrace such changes. 

"As this process moves forward, it is critical that Rep. Goss demonstrate his commitment to the swift and complete implementation of the 9/11 commission's recommendations," Daschle, D-S.D., said.

The Sept. 11 commission was established to determine intelligence failures prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and to develop recommendations for enhancing operations and communications in the intelligence community.

Among the recommendations was the suggestion to create a director of national intelligence (search), who would be responsible for the coordination and budgeting of the 15 different intelligence units now spread throughout the executive branch. The panel also called for a National Counterterrorism Center (search) to facilitate sharing of gathered intelligence.

At Wednesday's hearing, Sept. 11 commission chairman Thomas Kean said it's critical Congress give the nation's proposed new intelligence body plenty of flexibility, since it's likely the War on Terror will go on for a while.

Militant threats are "not going to be resolved in our generation," he said, adding that the "war against Islamic terrorism may be something that our children are dealing with."

Hamilton urged Congress to "move with care -- but with haste" on the commission's suggestions.

During a hearing last week to go over the commission's recommendations, Goss suggested that moving quickly to enact the reforms — as many Democrats have suggested doing — could hinder efforts to fix existing problems.

"We cannot afford to make changes blindly, or in unnecessary haste. We can ill afford to rush to judgment. These issues are too critical and too significant. We must pay attention to the details," Goss said, adding that he does agree with the commission that the intelligence community needs to be more creative in uncovering information.

Goss also mentioned that he introduced a bill in June that would restructure the intelligence community "under a different organizational construct than what is now operating."

On Wednesday, Goss called the commission's report a "wonderful exposition" and said there is "no issue more critical to the safety of the nation than ensuring that we conduct intelligence operations in the most effective manner possible."

One of the topics of Wednesday's hearing was the president's proposal for a director of national intelligence. President Bush has suggested that a DNI, who would be in charge of the director of central intelligence, should not be in a Cabinet post, so as to eliminate the impact of political influence on the job.

Rockefeller said Goss will have to clearly explain his opinion of the role and independence given to a national intelligence director.

"Porter Goss will need to answer tough questions about his record and his position on reform, including questions on the independence of the leader of the intelligence community," he said.

Even with concerns about Goss' nomination clearly and quickly stated, not all Democrats were critical of the choice.

Sen. Bob Graham (search), D-Fla., former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, praised Bush for his selection.

"My close work with Congressman Goss on the House-Senate joint inquiry into the events of 9/11 and his support for the joint inquiry's recommended reforms of our intelligence community give me confidence that he will be a vigorous and visionary leader," Graham said in a statement.

Bush announced Goss' appointment at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday in the Rose Garden. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, who strongly supports Goss' nomination, said confirmation hearings could begin as early as next week.

FOX News' James Rosen contributed to this report.