Lawmakers renew call for end to 'black budget' secrecy

Lawmakers renew call for end to 'black budget' secrecy
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Thursday renewed a push to require the president to disclose the top-line budget request for each of the 16 federal agencies that make up the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Currently, only the overall top-line figure is not classified — split between two aggregates of military and national intelligence, like the CIA and the FBI.

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The bill, from Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia GOP leader blocks resolution backing intelligence community on Russia Rand Paul blocks Sanders's Russia resolution, calls it 'crazy hatred' against Trump MORE (R-Ky.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenPutin summit puts spotlight back on Trump's tax returns Sunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight House passes measure blocking IRS from revoking churches' tax-exempt status over political activity MORE (D-Ore.) in the Senate and Jim SensenbrennerFrank (Jim) James SensenbrennerOne bill that will stop the spread of deadly fentanyl Ryan backs Vukmir in Wisconsin Senate GOP primary Lawmakers question FBI director on encryption MORE (R-Wis.) and Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchDems struggle with unity amid leadership tensions New Dem star to rattle DC establishment Overnight Defense: Defense spending bill amendments target hot-button issues | Space Force already facing hurdles | Senators voice 'deep' concerns at using military lawyers on immigration cases MORE (D-Vt.) in the House, would require the president’s annual budget request to make public an agency-by-agency breakdown.

“Protecting our national security means keeping many things secret from our enemies, but Congress should not be the ones in the dark,” Paul said in a statement. "Just as the military can provide budget information without jeopardizing our security, so too can the Intelligence Community.” 

Critics of the move argue that providing that level of detail — particularly in the case of smaller agencies — would give away too much information to adversaries about U.S. intelligence priorities. Only since 2007 has the national intelligence budget been made public.

Welch, with support from Sensenbrenner, has pushed since 2014 to cut down on the secrecy surrounding the so-called black budget, but has been rebuffed by both the Obama and Trump administrations.

“Beyond the disclosure of the NIP top-line figure, there will be no other disclosures of currently classified NIP budget information because such disclosures could harm national security,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in its 2019 budget request.

In 2013, the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided detailed figures on that year’s budget to The Washington Post, revealing a dominant $14.7 billion in CIA funding — an increase of over 50 percent between 2004 and 2013 — and $10.8 billion in NSA funding.

With the exception of the relevant intelligence and armed services committees, lawmakers are largely in the dark — leading to “dubious policies, wasted money and questionable effectiveness,” according to Welch.

The Trump administration requested a total of $81 billion for the year 2019 — $59.9 billion for national intelligence and $21.2 billion for military intelligence—up from the $78.4 that the administration requested for 2018.