By Justin Sink - 01/22/14 02:15 PM EST
The White House on Wednesday pledged federal agencies were "hard at work" implementing changes to the program that collects Americans' phone records after a report that federal officials were worried there was no way to end the practice within the timeframe prescribed in President Obama's speech last week.
In his speech on U.S. intelligence practices on Friday, Obama said he would like to address fears about abuse of the massive trove of telephone metadata by ending government collection.
But how to accomplish that task without eroding the government's intelligence capabilities remains an open question. In the address, Obama asked Attorney General Eric Holder and members of the intelligence community to propose a solution within two months.
A report prepared by a presidential review panel last month suggested that the records be maintained by telephone companies or a third party. But companies have been resistant to that idea, fearful that it could sour their relationships with customers and prove expensive.
On Wednesday, The Washington Post quoted administration officials saying they did not see how to accomplish the task within the president's prescribed timeline.
“The idea that this complicated problem will be solved in the next two months is very unlikely, if not impossible,” one official told the paper. “It is not at all inconceivable that the bulk collection program will stay the same, with the records held by the government until 2015," when the Patriot Act provision authorizing the collection expires.
Carney acknowledged that the issues were "complicated," but said "the word has already gone out" to find a solution.
"The examination of these issues was part of the review process, so moving forward, participants in that effort are not starting from scratch," Carney said.
But the White House spokesman sidestepped questions about what would happen if the attorney general failed to meet the goal.
"It's a complicated piece of business, but the president expects that action can be taken in the time line he's set," Carney said.