(Editor's note: During her "first 100 hours" as speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Nancy Pelosi has identified seven key agenda items, among them enacting the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.)
(CNSNews.com) - Campaign promises relating to congressional oversight of intelligence operations are likely to fall short of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations because key Democratic leaders have divergent agendas, according to a political scientist.
During the fall 2006 election campaign, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) - now House speaker - and other key Democrats promised to implement all of the recommendations made by the commission set up to investigate the 9/11 terrorist attack.
However, a recommendation that Congress embrace significant structural changes to the committees responsible for keeping tabs on intelligence programs is politically problematic, said Steven Balla, a political science professor with George Washington University.
The 9/11 Commission report described the status quo oversight arrangement in Congress as "dysfunctional."
"Tinkering with the existing structure is not sufficient," the report said.
It suggested the creation of a joint House and Senate committee, or as an alternative the establishment of separate committees in the House and Senate that merge authorizing and appropriation powers.
"The idea is like motherhood and apple pie, it sounds great to consolidate oversight," Balla said. "But Congress is organized in a very fragmented way, with committee chairman and subcommittee chairman trying to protect their turfs."
According to congressional aides and policy experts, Democratic leaders are reluctant to embrace reform measures proposed by the 9/11 panel that would mean the creation of new intelligence committees, or significant reconfiguration of existing ones.
"There can be tension between the party leadership and the political leadership," Balla said. "The party leadership has a global view and steers its ship in such a way that there is coordination in the fleet. But each committee leader is more interested in his own particular ship."
House Democrats currently favor creating a panel that would examine the special challenges associated with intelligence oversight. This same panel would then submit its own recommendations at a future date.
That approach is a "half-baked" attempt to implement the 9/11 Commission oversight recommendations, said Kevin Smith, a press spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Brian Darling, a congressional analyst with the Heritage Foundation, said the Democrats had during the election campaign "called for openness and transparency and participation by both parties, but they appear to be railroading these proposals through without debate or input by Republicans."
Darling said "it makes a lot of sense" to streamline the oversight process, but House Democrats are already "backing away" from the recommendation.
Republicans, meanwhile, were being "shut out" of the legislative process surrounding the recommendations, he said.
"The only real power the minority party has in the House is to amend legislation in committee," Darling explained. "Republicans are being denied having this opportunity since there is no input from the committees. This is the opening salvo of Speaker Pelosi in the 110th Congress."
Regardless of how the new Congress handles the 9/11 Commission recommendations, the question of oversight will continue to loom large, said Dan Byman, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institute.
"There have been huge and massive bureaucratic changes in the last five years," Byman told Cybercast News Service . For this reason, it is vital for Congress to maintain a watchful eye over how well the restructuring of intelligence operations and the integration of the intelligence community is working, he said.
Byman, who served on the 9/11 Commission, said the recommendations were "useful and practical" tools for "fighting terrorism in the years to come."
Members of Congress who claim responsibility over intelligence operations sit on a variety of committees. There are both operational and financial considerations that cut across committee assignments.
For instance, the House Committee on Appropriations, now chaired by Dave Obey (D-Wis.) with Jerry Lewis (R-Calif) as the ranking minority member, is cited in the 9/11 Commission report as a potential target of reorganization. A new subcommittee structure is expected to be put in place before the end of January.
The House Armed Services Committee also has a large hand in intelligence oversight. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) is slated to become the new chairman. The outgoing chairman, Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), will become the ranking minority member.
The Armed Services Committee has responsibility for oversight of the Department of Defense, the U.S. Armed Forces and the Department of Energy. Previously, there were six different subcommittees. Reorganization is expected to be completed this month.
On the Senate side, Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) will become the new chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence this month and Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) has been selected as vice-chairman.
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