Congress to Study Its National Security Role

Now that they are working to reorganize the intelligence agencies, some lawmakers are ready to address what the Sept. 11 commission (searchsaid was "dysfunctional" congressional oversight of national security.

A bipartisan Senate task force that is investigating possible changes will hold its first meeting next week, Sens. Mitch McConnell (search), R-Ky., and Harry Reid, D-Nev (search)., said Thursday.

"Trying to change the status quo around here as far as committees and all that is always very difficult," Reid said. "But we feel we have the support of the two leaders and we have made a commitment."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota formed the group in August and ordered it to report back quickly.

"We are open to making changes," said McConnell, although he would not give any details.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called on House Republicans to quickly follow suit.

"I think that it would be very important for us to do something like that," said Pelosi, D-Calif. "I had a conversation with the speaker at the White House on this subject. This is about our national security. Congress must strengthen its oversight or else abdicate its responsibility."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., has not yet decided how the House will look at reorganizing its intelligence oversight functions, spokesman John Feehery said.

The Sept. 11 commission said changing congressional oversight was among the "most difficult and important" of its recommendations.

"Congressional oversight for intelligence — and counterterrorism — is now dysfunctional," the commission said. It criticized intelligence agencies for not working together properly to prevent the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Currently, the House and Senate intelligence committees share authority with a half-dozen other panels.

"The other reforms we have suggested — for a national intelligence center and a national intelligence director — will not work if congressional oversight does not change too," the commission report said.

The Senate expects to start working in two weeks on legislation to reorganize the 15 intelligence agencies and create a national intelligence director.

The White House on Wednesday said that director should have the power to decide how to spend money that Congress sets aside for nonmilitary intelligence work, as the commission urged.

President Bush would leave the Defense Department in charge of the military intelligence agencies and would not give the intelligence director unilateral hiring and firing power, as the commission and some lawmakers have advocated.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice briefed a bipartisan House group Thursday on the president's proposal.

House leaders are still working out how that chamber will deal with the Sept. 11 commission's legislation. Several Republican and Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that tracks the commission's recommendations.

"The 9/11 Commission produced a comprehensive, thoughtful report that captured key changes we need to implement to make our nation safer," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., who sponsored the bill with Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.

A similar bill was introduced in the Senate. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said the House likely will not consider that legislation, however.