By Alexander Bolton - 09/28/10 04:24 PM EDT
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have a deal on an intelligence authorization bill that would establish new oversight rules for the intelligence community.
The Senate passed a new version of the intelligence authorization bill Monday night by voice vote. A Democratic aide said the House could approve it this week.
Pelosi had held up the intelligence authorization bill because of concerns over whether it would give members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence enough oversight of covert operations.
The Speaker, a former member of the House Intelligence Committee, also wanted to empower Congress to use the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the intelligence agencies.
The newest version of the legislation includes those demands. Pelosi praised the changes in a statement Tuesday.
passing the Intelligence Authorization Act last night, the Senate upheld our
first responsibility — to ensure the security of the American people — while addressing
two key objectives. It expands and improves the congressional
notification process for covert action and provides the framework for GAO
access to intelligence community information so that the GAO can conduct
investigations, audits and evaluations as requested by Congress.
"I look forward to the House passing the legislation this week."
Feinstein explained the changes in a Senate floor statement Monday.
An amendment allows intelligence officials to continue the practice of giving “limited notification” of extremely sensitive covert operations to the so-called Gang of Eight, which consists of the chairmen and ranking members of the intelligence committees and the senior party leaders in the House and Senate.
The basis of such limited notification, however, must be reviewed by the executive branch within 180 days and the reasons for limited oversight must be submitted to the Gang of Eight.
The amended language also requires the president to give all members of the Senate and House intelligence panels a “general description” of covert action in cases of limited notification, when only the Gang of Eight gets fully briefed on sensitive operations.
The new proposal also establishes a process for setting up guidelines that would allow the GAO access to intelligence agencies.
Amended language passed Monday by the Senate requires the director of national intelligence (DNI) to issue a directive on GAO access.
“The Department of Defense has issued a directive governing GAO access to Defense special access programs,” Feinstein noted in her statement. “This directive is regarded as having resolved successfully the issues that the Department and GAO had previously encountered.”
The DNI will submit the directive to Congress for review before it goes into effect.
Feinstein expressed hope the changes to the intelligence authorization bill will result in its passage.
“It is vitally important for the intelligence committees to pass an authorization bill this week,” Feinstein said. “Failure to enact an authorization bill weakens congressional oversight and it denies the intelligence community appropriate updates in the law.
“I am hopeful that we can accomplish this prior to recessing later this week for the November elections, and urge support."
Robert Litt, general counsel in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, informed Feinstein on Monday that senior advisers would recommend that President Obama sign the authorization bill as amended.
-- This story was updated at 12:32 p.m.