WASHINGTON (AP) -- Establishing a national intelligence "czar" would seem sure to shake up Washington's massive spy bureaucracy, but President Bush's description of the job has been murky and members of the Sept. 11 Commission complained Tuesday his plan doesn't go far enough.
"We will be talking in more detail as we move forward on this," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said in the face of criticism that Bush was too vague about the new director's authority. The unanswered questions mean Congress is likely to play a major role in defining the job and a proposed national counterterrorism center.
"No one is going to listen to this individual" without the ability to hire and fire and control budgets, said former Republican Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington, a member of the commission.
Bush's proposal departs in key areas from the recommendations of the commission that investigated the deadliest attack on America and faulted the work of intelligence and law enforcement agencies. In particular, the president's blueprint would give the new director authority to "coordinate" the budgets of the nation's 15 intelligence agencies, as the current director has, but not the final say on how much they receive or how they spend it.
Giving the director control over intelligence budgets probably would ignite a turf battle with the Pentagon, which controls a large chunk -- 85 percent by some estimates -- of the nation's $40 billion-plus intelligence budget.
"I know that Defense Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld is going to oppose it," commission member Bob Kerrey, a Democrat, said Tuesday. Rumsfeld told the commission in March that creating an intelligence czar would be a "great disservice." The commission said the director should have the power to hire and fire the chief of the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, the FBI intelligence office and other agencies. But Bush's plan simply envisions giving the director a say in those decisions.
"If you don't have the authority to pick the people, isn't a national director just a shell game and a shell operation?" said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.
Former Navy Secretary John Lehman, a GOP member of the Sept. 11 panel, agreed.
"It makes no sense at all unless it has the power to break up bureaucratic layers, to remove bureaucratic layers," said Lehman. "To carry it out, this national intelligence director has to have hiring and firing power, not just budget coordination power, but budget and appropriations and reprogramming power."
The proposed changes -- including creation of a national counterterrorism center -- would be perhaps the biggest shakeup of the intelligence community since the 1947 law establishing the CIA. With less than three months before the election, and with Congress on vacation until after Labor Day, the changes may not be enacted this year.
Bush would establish the new director in a freestanding office, outside the White House, with Cabinet rank and pay but not actually in the Cabinet. Other presidents could decide to bring the job within the Cabinet.
The official would report directly to the president and be his principal intelligence adviser, overseeing and coordinating the foreign and domestic activities of the intelligence community. The Sept. 11 Commission had urged putting the director in the White House to give him more clout.
In the bureaucratic structure, the national intelligence director would replace the current director of central intelligence, one of two positions currently held by the CIA director.
The national intelligence director would be hired by the president and could be fired by him, meaning that each new occupant of the Oval Office could name a chief intelligence officer. The director would have "a relatively large staff that would include analysts and support staff," White House chief of staff Andy Card said.
Eager to be seen in an election year as pushing ahead with reforms, Bush will soon instruct the CIA chief -- in his role as director of central intelligence -- to expand his role and exercise all the authority he has under the current law to manage intelligence agencies, according to a senior administration official.
But it was unclear what the director would do that he is not doing now, and why the authority was not exercised before this.