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 PaulA Senator Gary Johnson could be good not just for Libertarians, but for the Senate too Conservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Senate approves 4B spending bill MORE (R-Ky.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: NYT says Rosenstein wanted to wear wire on Trump | Twitter bug shared some private messages | Vendor put remote-access software on voting machines | Paypal cuts ties with Infowars | Google warned senators about foreign hacks Overnight Health Care: Opioids package nears finish line | Measure to help drug companies draws ire | Maryland ObamaCare rates to drop Google says senators' Gmail accounts targeted by foreign hackers MORE (D-Ore.) in the Senate and Jim SensenbrennerFrank (Jim) James SensenbrennerOn The Money: Trump readying 0B in tariffs for China | Warren wants companies to disclose climate impacts | Bill aims to provide clarity to online sales tax ruling One bill that will stop the spread of deadly fentanyl Ryan backs Vukmir in Wisconsin Senate GOP primary MORE (R-Wis.) and Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchOne Vermont Republican wins statewide nomination in six races Live results: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Vermont, Connecticut hold primaries Overnight Health Care: Trump officials approve proposals to shore up ObamaCare | Study says 'Medicare for All' would cost .6T over 10 years | Dems court conservative Republican in drug pricing fight 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.