NEGROPONTE
Dennis Cook  /  AP file
John Negroponte, U.S. national intelligence director.
updated 6/9/2005 8:28:14 PM ET 2005-06-10T00:28:14

Ending a challenge to the authority of the new national intelligence director, a top House Republican agreed to drop his insistance on a provision that would have curbed John Negroponte’s ability to shift personnel from one spy agency to another.

After a meeting with Negroponte, House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said he had reached a compromise with the intelligence chief that would give Hunter input when Negroponte wants to move Defense Department employees.

“We’d have a personal meeting before any folks are transferred, and he would give serious considerations to any objections or recommendations that we might make,” Hunter said in an interview Thursday night. “We agreed that 99 percent of the time, we are going to be on the same sheet of paper.”

A spokeswoman for Negroponte’s office couldn’t confirm the details, but she called it a “very satisfactory” meeting.

Divide in Congress
The issue caused a rift between two powerful House chairmen — Hunter and House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich. It also exposed a divide in Congress over how best to manage the nation’s estimated $40 billion intelligence community.

The agreement should clear the way for the House to take up a bill laying out intelligence agency programs for next year.

It also means the intelligence chief survived an early test. Advocates for Negroponte, who took over in April, said this turf war would define his ability to succeed.

“I said before that he needs to win the first turf battle, even if it is over the size of the table napkins,” said California Rep. Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “This is a lot bigger.”

Lawmakers created the national intelligence director’s job in December, heeding the recommendation of the Sept. 11 Commission to put one person in charge of the 15 highly independent spy agencies.

The much-debated legislation gave two key powers to the director: control of budgets and the ability to move intelligence personnel among agencies.

The December law said Negroponte could move up to 100 employees, once he consulted with the appropriate congressional committees. But a provision in the annual intelligence budget bill — supported by Hunter — would have required Negroponte to notify those panels and get a response. Hunter called that power “an important oversight function.”

De facto veto power?
Critics, however, said that would mean Hunter or another committee chairman could effectively veto the transfer of a single individual.

Hoekstra initially supported the language along with other Republicans on his committee, but later recommended the provision be stripped. Hoekstra said he learned that the White House, Negroponte and other Republican members opposed the language.

“In hindsight, it was a clumsy way to do it,” Hoekstra said.

The dispute appeared to get personal. Hoekstra called it “unprecedented” that Hunter was circulating a letter Hoekstra had sent to him in May that promised to clarify the issue in the budget legislation.

“The sad thing here is that this is an awesome intelligence bill,” Hoekstra said. “And we are worried about and focused on whether a single committee chairman should have the ability to veto the DNI moving one person.”

Former Navy Secretary John Lehman, a member of the Sept. 11 commission, said the issue would determine whether the intelligence director would have the authority to supersede the parochial interests of the 15 intelligence agencies.

“The people that have put Duncan Hunter up to this are the people in the agencies who do not want to share any of the authority that they have and certainly not share any of the good people that they have,” Lehman said.

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