Watching the Watchmen

| Fri Sep. 11, 2009 1:23 PM EDT

Amy Zegart says that one of the biggest unfinished pieces of business from 9/11 is reform of intelligence oversight.  Not reform of the intelligence community itself, which has made at least some progress over the past few years, but specifically of congressional oversight.  Congress simply refuses to take action to make its oversight both serious and consequential.  For example:

Both the House and Senate have repeatedly rejected proposals before and after 9/11 to give the Intelligence Committees appropriations powers. Instead, the intelligence budgetary system is divided: Intelligence Committees can threaten to punish recalcitrant agencies with budget cuts, but Appropriations Committees must deliver. History has shown that they don’t, and that savvy intelligence agencies game the system — bypassing the Intelligence Committees and getting their pet projects funded by the appropriators instead. One congressional staffer recently told me that the Senate Intelligence Committee has tried to kill three expensive and ineffective satellite programs — on a bipartisan basis — for years. They’ve finally terminated 2 of them, but all were funded far longer than they should have. We’re talking billions of dollars.

Bad stuff.  But no surprise, either.  Congress is famously disjointed (it's why the healthcare and climate change bills have both been forced to wend their way through multiple committees, getting watered down at every stop), and Appropriations is always a prize appointment because everything that matters ends up in its clutches eventually.  This strikes me as very, very unlikely to change.  But it should!