President Obama Thursday signed the fiscal 2010 intelligence authorization bill into law, the first time such a bill has been enacted in five years.
Although the bill technically applies to the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, lawmakers and intelligence officials say it includes many provisions that will have an impact for years to come.
For example, the bill includes a provision aimed at increasing the number of lawmakers who can be briefed about covert spy activities. To that end, it requires the administration to give all members of the Senate and House intelligence committees at least a general description of secret operations.
It also creates an inspector general for the U.S. intelligence community and requires intelligence agency chiefs to certify annually that they have kept Congress fully and currently informed of significant intelligence activities.
"In the absence of authorization bills, Congress has been unable to change laws and alter important policies," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said Thursday.
"The enactment of [the bill] puts the intelligence committees back in the business of authorizing," Reyes added. "It represents substantial gains for congressional oversight of national security. More importantly, this law gives the [intelligence] community the tools it needs to keep America safe."
The bill also includes a provision that requires Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and the Government Accountability Office to come up with a directive that will allow government auditors to inspect intelligence operations.
Speaking at an intelligence conference Wednesday, Clapper acknowledged that GAO can be helpful, especially in the area of overhauling the process for giving security-clearances to intelligence personnel and contractors. But he said he is concerned about GAO getting into "the core essence" of intelligence, such as by evaluating sources and methods and critiquing national intelligence estimates.
Clapper said giving GAO auditors who have subject matter expertise access to certain activities would be appropriate.
But he also bemoaned that the congressional intelligence committees have become partisan. "I think it's fair to say that overtime the two intelligence committees have got caught up somewhat in the partisanship that prevails today," he said.
Clapper said he would do what he can to build a positive relationship with the committees.