Fearing Bloating, House Cuts Some Spy Funds

The House Intelligence committee votes to withhold some funding from the new intelligence chief. Lawmakers say they created the post, held by John Negroponte, to streamline spying efforts. But instead, they say, a bloated bureaucracy has emerged. The move is a sharp rebuke to Negroponte, who has hired more than 700 positions, including "Principal Assistant Deputy Director for Customer Outcomes."

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

When John Negroponte took over as this country's first intelligence director, he was handed this mission: cut through bureaucracy and streamline spy operations. Instead, he's on his way to creating a brand new bureaucracy of his own. That's according to lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee. They voted to withhold some funding from the spy chief unless he can justify why he keeps expanding his staff.

NPR's Mary Louise Kelly has the story.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: In his first year on the job, John Negroponte has hired some 700 staffers. They include positions that don't exactly sound essential. For example, Principle Assistant Deputy Director for Customer Outcomes, or Associate Deputy Senior Acquisition Executive.

Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says she's worried that the Director of National Intelligence seems to keep adding "more billets, more bureaucracy, more buildings."

JANE HARMAN: We're concerned about the way this is going, and hopefully this message that we're sending will prompt the DNI to be much clearer about new directions.

LOUISE KELLY: The message came in the form of a bipartisan vote last week, to hold back some of Negroponte's budget until he presents Congress with a detailed report on staff increases.

Republican Max Thornberry, a member of the Intelligence Committee, says the vote wasn't meant as a public rebuke. But, he says, there is some frustration on Capitol Hill with the course set by Mr. Negroponte.

MAX THORNBERRY: There are clearly members on the committee who are concerned that he is not moving far enough fast enough. The challenge is how much help, how many staff members, you know, how much money does he need to do that job? And does more help make things better? Or does it make things worse?

LOUISE KELLY: Negroponte's office points out that its size is within the limits of the law that created the Director of National Intelligence. And Carl Kropf, a spokesman for Negroponte argues, "You don't want to just be a place that paper flows through. To evaluate programs, to create budgets, you got to have the experience on your staff."

There's also the point that Negroponte's duties keep growing. Last summer, when he was just two months into the job, the White House announced it was backing dozens of recommendations from a presidential intelligence commission. That's created a lot more work. Ellen Laipson, former vice chair of the National Intelligence Council, says it's no wonder that Negroponte's staff has swollen.

ELLEN LAIPSON: When we went through this spate of big reform ideas and recommendations, and the White House essentially embraced all of the reforms and said, let's do all of these things. Aren't these great ideas? Congress dutifully stepped up to the plate and kept giving more and more money to the intelligence community, so I find it a little bit ironic, or poignant, that Congress is now saying, wait a minute you're overdoing it.

LOUISE KELLY: Laipson sees another force at work, the expansion of military intelligence operations. Laipson says civilians in the DNI's office have watched as the Pentagon fights for a more active role in clandestine work abroad.

LAIPSON: And I am sure that there's a kind of bureaucratic impulse to make sure that if the Department of Defense's intelligence offices expand their capacity, then there has to be an equivalent on the ODNI side.

LOUISE KELLY: The move to withhold funding still has to be voted on by the full House and the Senate. Meanwhile, Negroponte's office can consider itself on notice. Congress is watching for signs of bureaucracy bloat.

Mary Louise Kelly, NPR news, Washington.

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