In-Depth: Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to require the president to disclose the topline annual budget request to Congress from each of the 16 federal agencies conducting intelligence activities. When he introduced this bill in the 115th Congress, he said:
“The biggest threat to the success of any federal program is a combination of unlimited money and non-existent oversight. That's the situation Congress has allowed to develop in the critical work of intelligence gathering. The top-line intelligence budgets for America's 16 intelligence agencies are unknown to the American taxpayer and largely unknown to the Members of Congress who represent them. It's led to dubious policies, wasted money and questionable effectiveness. Americans have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent and that their national security interests are being well served.”
In a letter to his Congressional colleagues seeking cosponsors for this bill last Congress, Rep. Welch added that releasing topline budgets wouldn’t jeopardize national security:
“Ensuring America’s national security requires professional and competent intelligence agencies. But the urgency of the mission assigned to the 16 intelligence agencies should not shield them from budget accountability and transparency. In fact, the urgency of their mission makes the need for transparency even greater in order to assure Congress and the American people of the quality and effectiveness of their work… Simply disclosing the top-line spending at these agencies would not risk national security by identifying specific activities. It would, however, shed some much-needed light on the secrecy surrounding intelligence spending. The American people will be better served by knowing where they send their hard-earned tax dollars.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who sponsored this bill in the 115th Congress, said:
“By operating secret programs funded by secret budgets, our national intelligence agencies enjoy a blank check as far as the American taxpayers are concerned. With little to no public oversight, it is even more important that Americans have at least some sense of whether they’re getting what they paid for. Requiring the disclosure of these budget requests is the first step in achieving greater accountability and transparency of these agencies.”
This bill has one cosponsor, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). In the 115th Congress, it had five bipartisan House cosponsors, including three Republicans and two Democrats, and didn’t receive a committee vote. The Senate version of this bill, sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (R-OR), had one cosponsor, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), in the 115th Congress and didn’t receive a committee vote.
Of Note: Currently, intelligence agency budgets are funded with a so-called “black budget” supplement that is debated and voted upon behind closed doors by congressional appropriators. Until recently, not even aggregate intelligence spending requests were disclosed.
The 9/11 Commission recommended the disclosure of top-line budget figures from each intelligence agency in order to increase transparency and accountability. In its report, the Commission wrote, “when even aggregate categorical numbers remain hidden, it is hard to judge priorities and foster accountability.”
This bill would require disclosure of funding requests from the following agencies: Air Force Intelligence, Army Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Coast Guard Intelligence, Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Department of Treasury, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Marine Corps Intelligence, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, National Security Agency, and Navy Intelligence.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / undefined undefined)