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Intelligence Issues for Congress - Digital Library
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Congress and the judicial branch have affirmed the executive branch's lead role for conducting national security affairs numerous times. Furthermore, the White House can limit congressional influence in the domain of national security and intelligence.
The White House has the power to control information classification, and even withhold access to information and operational details from certain members of Congress. In this way, the executive branch can directly control what Congress can or cannot see, indirectly influencing the legislative branch's overall ability to make decisions.
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Thus, despite members of the Intelligence Committees and their staffs holding appropriate security clearances, they may sometimes only have a limited view into specific intelligence activities. The President also has the power to veto any legislation that Congress passes. For example, President Bush's veto of the Intelligence Authorization Bill of , which included language on coercive interrogation, indicates that this can be a very effective tool to control the ability of Congress to influence intelligence policy.
Leaders of the IC are appointed by the President to their positions, and the White House has the authority to hire and fire them. As a result, the President is able to appoint trusted advisors to key positions in the IC. Although the Constitution gives the executive branch preeminence in dealing with intelligence matters, Article I nevertheless provides Congress with an important oversight role.
However, Congressional oversight into intelligence issues is a complex task, requiring a sophisticated understanding of the issues. Members, for reasons of classification or technical complexity, did not share a common understanding of the law, let alone how it should be adjusted. Congress's most important source of leverage is the power to authorize programs and appropriate funds.
During the authorization and appropriations process, Congress can signal its intelligence and policy priorities through both the allocation of funds and the inclusion of non budget-related clauses in the authorization and appropriations bills. This sometimes grueling process forces the White House to carefully select its nominees and provides an opportunity for Senate input on both the individuals and issues related to intelligence policy.
In recent years, the Senate has withheld confirmation until the executive branch agreed to share additional information on key areas of congressional oversight of intelligence activities. Congress invites—and, in some cases, compels—high-ranking members of the executive branch to appear before Congress to ask them targeted questions intended to create more transparent and effective IC operations.
As noted previously, however, the power of this tool depends in large part on Congress's awareness of IC activities.
Oversight in the executive branch usually focuses on covert action and espionage. The President heads oversight in the executive branch, and all covert actions must be approved by him or her Refer to Intelligence Authorization Act and Hughes—Ryan Act. The President also has the power to appoint commissions, which can be used to assess intelligence topics such as The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks or The Iraq Intelligence Commission.
In , President George W.
United States Intelligence Community Oversight
Bush by Executive Order removed some oversight powers from the IOB, critics argue that the changes have weakened oversight capabilities. Previously, if the IOB learned of allegedly illegal or contrary to executive order intelligence activity, it notified both the president and the attorney general, now however, the IOB must refer matters to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation. In addition, the IOB lost the authority to oversee each intelligence agency's general counsel and inspector general. The OIG "conducts independent investigations, audits, inspections, and special reviews…of personnel and programs to detect and deter waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct, and to promote integrity, economy, efficiency, and effectiveness.
The Office of Management and Budget OMB also oversees agencies, the OMB "reviews intelligence budgets in light of presidential policies and priorities, clears proposed testimony, and approves draft intelligence legislation for submission to Congress. The main objective of IOP is "to ensure that the DoD can conduct its intelligence and counterintelligence missions while protecting the statutory and constitutional rights of U.