May 13, 2015

Wyden, Welch, Lummis Introduce Legislation to Require Transparency in Intelligence Budgets

Bill tracks 9/11 Commission recommendation to make public the top line budgets of 16 federal intelligence agencies

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Reps. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., have introduced legislation that would require the president to disclose in the annual budget request to Congress the top line spending levels at the 16 federal agencies known to conduct intelligence activities.  Top-line spending levels for federal intelligence activities are currently treated as classified information.   

The Intelligence Budget Transparency Act implements a recommendation made by the 9/11 Commission.  Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, the commission’s vice chairman and former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, endorsed the bill.  According to Hamilton, “America needs competent and effective intelligence gathering agencies. And Congress must exercise prudent and diligent oversight to assure the American taxpayer is getting what it’s paying for. The first step toward accountability and oversight is public disclosure of the top-line budget numbers of all our intelligence gathering agencies.”

“For almost 10 years, the total size of the national intelligence budget has been disclosed to the public, in accordance with legislation that I and others wrote to increase transparency in national security spending,” Wyden said. “Revealing the overall intelligence budget number has not jeopardized national security, as opponents of the proposal argued at the time, and has led to a more open and informed debate on national security spending. My House colleagues and I are pushing to declassify the topline budget numbers for each intelligence agency to provide Americans with more information about how their tax dollars are spent, in a responsible manner that protects national security.”

"The biggest threat to the successful implementation of a vital national program is the combination of unlimited money with non-existent oversight. That's the situation Congress has allowed to develop in the critical work of intelligence gathering,” Welch said. “The top-line intelligence budgets for America's 16 intelligence agencies are unknown to the American taxpayer and largely unknown to the Members of Congress who represent them. It's led to dubious policies, wasted money and questionable effectiveness. Requiring the public disclosure of top-line intelligence spending is an essential first step in assuring that our taxpayers and our national security interests are well served."

“Providing for our national security and safeguarding Americans’ freedoms are fundamental roles of the federal government and ensuring effective intelligence is critical to that work,” Lummis said. “However, writing checks without any idea of where the money is going is bad policy. Disclosing the top-line budgets of each of our intelligence agencies promotes basic accountability among the agencies charged with protecting Americans without compromising our national security interests.”

The lawmakers’ bill would apply to the following federal agencies:  Air Force Intelligence, Army Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Coast Guard Intelligence, Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Treasury, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Marine Corps Intelligence, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, National Security Agency, and Navy Intelligence.  

Other cosponsors of the bill include Reps. David Price, D-N.C., James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.