WASHINGTON – President Bush (search) outlined on Wednesday his vision of the powers he would like the new national intelligence director to have, including full budget and personnel authorities.
Speaking to a bipartisan group of congressional members during a White House meeting, the president said he looks forward to getting a bill from Congress to institute reforms proposed by the Sept. 11 commission (search).
"I will be submitting a plan to the Congress that strengthens intelligence reform, strengthens the intelligence services," Bush said from the Cabinet Room at the White House. "It's important we get our intelligence-gathering correct. After all, we're still at war. We've got to find the enemy before they hurt us. We've to do everything we can to protect the homeland."
White House spokesman Sean McCormack said the NID would have the authority to hire and fire "top line" officials — those at the highest levels of the intelligence agencies — though the NID would need to get a concurring opinion from the heads of each agency in order to change personnel.
For instance, McCormack said, the defense secretary would have to agree to decisions regarding the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (search) or other Pentagon units.
McCormack also said that the new NID will have budgetary authority over the national foreign intelligence budget (search). The actual intelligence community budget is classified, but reports have suggested that the sum is about $40 billion.
"It's billions and billions of dollars," McCormack said, adding the NID would have authority over "a big portion" of it.
Bush's remarks, made just days before the third anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, were well received by some lawmakers.
"The president made a significant announcement ... saying the administration will support strong budgetary authority for the [NID]. The position the president has taken gives [us] high hopes that we will adopt strong reforms of our intelligence community," said Sen. Joe Lieberman (search), D-Conn., during a Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on intelligence reforms. The committee is charged with writing the legislation.
Lieberman, ranking Democrat on the committee, was one of the congressional members who attended Bush's morning meeting.
However, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., ranking member on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said he was still unsure if the president was going to submit his own legislation or rely on a bill submitted by others.
On Tuesday, Lieberman, Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Evan Bayh of Indiana introduced a 280-page bill that would implement all 41 recommendations made by the Sept. 11 panel headed by former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton.
Rockefeller, who was also at the White House Wednesday morning, added that if the president is serious, Congress must devote a large portion of the remaining few weeks of the legislative session to get the bill done.
FBI Director Robert Mueller and acting CIA Director John McLaughlin weighed in on the possible changes at the Senate Governmental Affairs panel hearing. McLaughlin said an NID would need the authority to move money and people quickly. Mueller said he would have a problem if the intelligence budget were publicized.
"It would immediately be perused by our enemies, whether it be terrorists or other countries, in terms of how many agents we have in our counter-intelligence program, who they might be, what their support is," he said.
The House is considering the Sept. 11 commission recommendations in parts, with several committees working on their own legislation. Reps. Chris Shays, R-Conn., and Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., will introduce a House version of the Lieberman-McCain bill. Democrats led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi introduced their own legislation on Wednesday.
One bill that has been floated in the Senate by Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., would transfer the nation's major intelligence-gathering from the CIA and the Pentagon to the new national intelligence director.
Roberts' idea has received limited enthusiasm, he said because it "has been deemed by some as radical and others as bold — not as many 'bold' as 'radical."'
Though the commission did not propose such a plan, Hamilton did not reject the idea when asked about it during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Tuesday.
"We just didn't look at it that boldly," Hamilton said. "What we said was the NID needs to control the budget of these groups and we thought that was sufficient. And we did not recommend pulling these agencies out of the [Defense Department] because we thought that was too much of a change."
The idea is "a very bold move. It's a lot bolder than we made," he said.
While the president did not say where the legislation was coming from, a fact sheet distributed by the White House said the president has already instituted 36 of the 41 recommendations by the Sept. 11 panel, including the creation of a National Counterterrorism Center (search), and he is taking a look at the last five.
Among the remaining recommendations, two call for changes to congressional oversight of intelligence and homeland security, which the administration supports.
It is "studying the remaining three recommendations," the sheet said.
The president would also like to see other changes, according to the White House, including the establishment of a Cabinet-level Joint Intelligence Community Council that would "help ensure the implementation of a joint, unified national intelligence effort to protect national and homeland security. The JICC will advise the national intelligence director on setting requirements, financial management, establishing uniform intelligence policies and monitoring and evaluating performance of the intelligence community."
The president wants the power to appoint the NID, with Senate confirmation, and have that person act as a principal adviser to the president and an overseer of the intelligence community, but the NID would not be a Cabinet official, the White House said.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said input from all areas will be considered in the final product.
"I suspect the House and Senate will have a legislative vehicle at the end of the month that will incorporate the 9/11 recommendations that have been debated, and (recommendations) that people feel are reasonable as well as the president's request," Frist said.
FOX News' Mike Emanuel, Catherine Herridge and Julie Asher and The Associated Press contributed to this report.