House Democrats want panel overseeing intelligence spending reinstated

Democrats argue it would help ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely, while Republicans counter that it would be redundant.

A group of House Democrats is calling on GOP counterparts to reinstate a panel created in the last Congress to help ensure better oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies and spending.

The group, led by Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., wants House Republican leaders to maintain the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel under the House Appropriations Committee. Holt chaired the panel in the last Congress, but it was abolished through the rules package adopted this month by the new House GOP majority.

Spending on intelligence agencies and operations has dramatically increased over the last decade. The government spent about $80 billion on the National Intelligence Program and Military Intelligence Program in fiscal 2010, according to the Director of National Intelligence.

The disclosure prompted both Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and then-House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, to call for restraint in spending.

"It is clear that the overall spending on intelligence has blossomed to an unacceptable level in the past decade," Feinstein said.

House Democrats argue the oversight panel can help ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.

The Democratic lawmakers who want the panel reinstated, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, plan to hold a press conference on Thursday to publicly make their case.

The panel was created in order to address an unfulfilled recommendation of the national commission that investigated the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The 9/11 Commission concluded that Congress did not give enough oversight to intelligence operations.

The commission found that lawmakers serving on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, which allocates funding for intelligence agencies, did not have the time or resources to do proper oversight. While lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee focused on oversight, they did not control intelligence funding, which is the biggest stick to force agencies to act.

In response, Democrats in the last Congress created the hybrid oversight panel with lawmakers from both committees. Democrats argue the panel helped shape spending decisions.

Republicans, however, have argued the panel was redundant.

They also point out that Democrats did not follow through exactly as the 9/11 Commission recommended, which was to create one committee with both authorizing and appropriating authority. "Instead of making this recommendation happen, the separate sub-panel created by Democrats did the exact opposite -- it diffused rather than consolidated oversight," a House GOP leadership aide said.