CHICAGO – Republican Rep. Peter Hoekstra (search) of Michigan was picked Wednesday to head the House Intelligence Committee amid a heated election-year debate over how to carry out a major overhaul of the nation's intelligence system.
"Pete has big shoes to fill, but I'm confident he will do an excellent job," House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said as he announced his choice at a news conference with Hoekstra at his side.
Hoekstra, 50, who was born in the Netherlands and came to the United States as a youngster, currently serves on the intelligence committee and represents a district in western Michigan. The former furniture company executive has served on the intelligence committee since 2001.
He said that his trips for the committee to Afghanistan, Iraq and the Persian Gulf region have helped him understand the military's need for accurate tactical intelligence. Hoekstra said reshaping the intelligence community would be "a team effort" with Congress and the president taking a role.
"We are in a war on terrorism," Hoekstra said. "Intelligence is an essential weapon offensively and defensively if we are to win this war."
The House and Senate intelligence committees are expected to take crucial roles as Congress debates whether to create a new post of national intelligence director to oversee the 15 agencies that now make up the intelligence community.
The Sept. 11 commission recommended such a post, and the Senate committee's chairman, Pat Roberts, R-Kan., this week proposed a radical overhaul that would create the intelligence director post, break up the CIA and move three top intelligence agencies out of the Pentagon.
Hoekstra said Wednesday that there is a "growing consensus across the executive and legislative branches" in favor of a national intelligence director. He also said that a national intelligence director should have "some level of budgetary authority," something that has been hotly debated in Washington.
President Bush supports the idea of a national intelligence director but has not said how much authority that job should have, or whether he supports Roberts' proposal.
The CIA and the Pentagon have expressed strong concerns about Roberts' plan.
The degree of controversy over the issue was underscored Wednesday as Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, who is also on the intelligence committee, told a Capitol Hill news conference that Roberts' proposal "complicates the Goss nomination."
The Virginia Republican said that unlike the Roberts blueprint, he wants to strengthen the post of director of central intelligence.
Goss' confirmation hearing in the Senate for the CIA job is expected in early September.