House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will let the fiscal 2010 intelligence authorization bill advance to the House floor for a vote this week even though the measure will not guarantee that every lawmaker on the House and Senate intelligence committees will be included in administration briefings on covert intelligence activities.
Pelosi had held up the authorization bill for months by insisting that it overhaul the so-called Gang of Eight congressional notification process, under which the president can limit briefings on spy programs to only the top Democrat and Republican on the House and Senate intelligence panels and both party leaders in the two chambers.
But Tuesday she appeared to accept what congressional aides have privately said for months -- that the White House would make good on a veto threat if the bill dropped the Gang of Eight process to expand the briefings.
Instead, Pelosi and Senate and House lawmakers, along with Obama administration officials, have agreed to language that allows a covert intelligence finding to be withheld if the president determines that doing so is in the country's national security interest.
Under new bill language, the president would have to give the panels a general description of the finding. The president would brief the top Democrat and Republican on the intelligence panels but would be able to withhold the information from all other members of the committees.
By allowing the bill to proceed, however, Democrats can claim an 11th-hour victory on a national security measure before the midterm elections, a move that will likely give vulnerable Democratic lawmakers another legislative achievement to point to.
Pelosi's holdup of the bill was also partly due to her demand that the Government Accountability Office could audit the intelligence agencies. Under compromise language, the bill would require GAO and the director of national intelligence to develop a directive governing audits by May 1.
The agreement paves the way for enacting the first intelligence authorization bill since fiscal 2005. The Senate passed the bill late Monday. House Rules will likely pass a rule for the bill Wednesday, after which it is expected to be approved by the full House.
Congressional aides acknowledged that it seemed odd to pass the fiscal 2010 intelligence authorization bill when the fiscal year ends this week. But they said the bill contained many provisions that make changes within U.S. intelligence agencies and improve congressional oversight.
For example, the bill would create an inspector general for the intelligence community and require the director of national intelligence to issue regulations governing the ability of intelligence officers to work other jobs.
It also includes a provision that would overhaul acquisition programs at intelligence agencies, a measure intended to prevent bloated, ineffective programs. And it would require the total amount of the administration's budget request for the national intelligence program to be declassified.