WASHINGTON – Congressional leaders on Sunday would not guarantee passage of an overhaul of the nation's intelligence agencies by the November election but pledged to try to make it happen.
"I think we need to do a serious attempt at it. I would like to pass something by Election Day (search). I think we need to do it," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. "We just can't let this sit fallow."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said both the House and Senate have held hearings this summer and worked diligently on how to deal with recommendations for change offered by the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks.
The commission found serious shortcomings in intelligence handling and analysis. Among the suggestions was creation of a national director of intelligence with the power to oversee spending, hiring and firing of all intelligence agencies.
"We will be deliberate. We will be aggressive. We will be focused," said Frist, who appeared with Hastert on "Fox News Sunday."
Still, the senator said, "It's not going to be a knee-jerk reaction. This is too big. ... We'll do it in a very careful and thoughtful and aggressive way."
President Bush issued executive orders Friday to expand the powers of the CIA director to perform many of the functions of a proposed national intelligence director (search) until Congress comes up with a formula for the intelligence system.
Bush's orders also put in place other commission recommendations. He also has promised to work with Congress to design the position of overall director of the 15 civilian and military intelligence agencies.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has proposed breaking up the Central Intelligence Agency (search) and downgrading or eliminating several agencies in the Pentagon.
Congress has set Oct. 1 as its target to leave before the Nov. 2 election, but that adjournment date is almost certain to be extended. The leaders of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee are working on intelligence legislation to be presented to the full Senate by the end of September.
"We are going to progress over the next 30 days," Frist said. "The president of the United States has delivered a directive to us and to the Congress, yesterday to the American people. It will be much more specific, we predict, in about 10 days."