House Passes Intelligence Authorization Bill

House Passes Intelligence Authorization Bill

The House passed the FY2011 intelligence authorization bill (H.R. 754) today by a vote of 392-15.

House approval came despite objections by the White House in a Statement of Administraiton Policy (SAP) issued Wednesday. Among other complaints, the SAP states that the bill includes a “signification reduction of funds below the current funding level … from a technical collection program [that] will negatively impact an acquisition that is successfully achieving acquisition milestones. This action comes at a time when the [Intelligence Community] is conducting a Congressionally-requested assessment of an alternative to the Administration’s program. Until that assessment is complete, a significant reduction or redirection of funds is unwarranted and will likely jeopardize the scheduled operational capability of this critical national security collection system.”

The reference to a “technical collection program” is assumed by many to refer to a satellite intelligence collection system. The disagreement between Congress and the White House seems to continue a long-running dispute about whether building a few, large, “exquisite” electro-optical imagery collection satellites is better than building a constellation of more, but smaller satellites. This dispute is one of the reasons it was so difficult for Congress to pass the last intelligence authorization bill.

In April 2009, the Obama administration chose a policy of updating the exquisite capabilities on which the nation has long relied instead of pursuing the alternative of buiding a constellation of smaller satellites. Boeing’s Future Imagery Archiecture (FIA) program, cancelled because of significant cost overruns and schedule delayes, was emblematic of the latter approach and was going to be replaced by the Broad Area Satellite Imagery Collection (BASIC) program. Lockheed Martin builds the traditional “exquisite” systems.

The National Journal (subscription required) reports that the Administration’s objections to H.R. 754 took lawmakers by surprise. The chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), issued a statement after the vote praising the bipartisan support of his Democratic counterpart, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD).

Action now moves to the Senate. The Senate Intelligence Committee has reported a bill (S. 719) that seems very similar to what the House passed. Senator Dianne Feinsten (D-CA), chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has been a strong proponent of the BASIC approach. Critics assert that the requisite technology is not yet available for such a system.

The Administration had other objections to H.R. 754, but they do not appear to be directly related to satellite capabilities.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.