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Washington—Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today filed an amendment to the government funding bill being considered by the Senate that would provide flexibility to the intelligence community in applying sequester cuts.

The amendment would allow defense intelligence agencies and the CIA to implement spending reductions required under sequestration at a higher budget account level—consistent with the rest of the Defense Department—thereby providing more leeway to cut spending from lower-priority or less immediate programs. The amendment would not affect the size of the budget cut.

Feinstein’s statement in support of the amendment follows:

“Mr. President, I rise today in support of an amendment that I have filed, along with Vice Chairman Chambliss, to the appropriations bill now on the Floor, which will address a unique problem the Intelligence Community faces in applying the sequester reductions to the National Intelligence Program (NIP) budget.

In short, this amendment would ensure that the Intelligence Community—which has to be as predictive and agile as possible—will have the same level of flexibility in implementing budget cuts as the Department of Defense, where most of its budget is located. Without this relief, the Intelligence Community will be far less discriminating in how it adjusts personnel and financial resources to address the dynamic and unforeseen threats our nation will face in the upcoming months.

This is a common sense amendment. It doesn’t cost a dime, and it will likely avoid a great deal of harm to our intelligence capabilities.

Let me briefly describe the background and how the amendment would work.

As has been described many times, the terms of the sequestration require that the same level of budget cuts apply “across the board.” That is, departments and agencies have to apply the same percentage cut across each account.

It therefore becomes very important how those accounts are defined. If the account is very large, a manager has more leeway to prioritize funding and cut the least important, or the least urgent, needs. By contrast, if the account is defined as being smaller, there is less flexibility to cut funding responsibly, and more important programs will suffer.

Because of language included in the Fiscal Year 2012 Defense Appropriations Act, however, the Intelligence Community must apply the sequester in a highly restrictive way. That legislation required that the definition of an account for sequestration in the Intelligence Community is at something known as the Programs, Projects, and Activities—known as PPA—level. The Intelligence Community’s budget has 685 PPAs, and each will need to be cut equally. The most problematic of these PPAs for the intelligence agencies are the 354 PPAs within the intelligence agencies’ Operations and Maintenance (O&M) accounts. These are the accounts which fund current operations and salaries.

The overall Department of Defense budget is roughly ten times that of the Intelligence Community, but it has only three times more PPAs—in other words, it has relatively fewer accounts that are affected by sequestration, and thus greater flexibility to absorb the sequester cuts, since they can be applied within larger budget accounts.

This amendment would help alleviate this problem by permitting the agencies in the Intelligence Community that are funded by the Defense Appropriations bill to use the same definition of what constitutes a Program, Project, and Activity Account as the Defense Department when applying sequestration reductions to its O&M accounts.  This specific change will reduce the number of these PPAs from 354 to five (5) and will not affect other PPAs. No budget outside of the Intelligence Community is affected—we simply provide these intelligence agencies with the same level of flexibility as the Pentagon.

In times like today, where the threats are neither static nor predictable, I ask that my colleagues approve this amendment so that the Intelligence Community may be nimble and responsive to the dangers our nation faces.

This is not a simple budgetary matter. How the cuts of sequestration are applied makes a great deal of difference in practical terms.

Just yesterday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and other intelligence agency heads testified at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Hearing on Current and Projected National Security Threats to the United States. They described the numerous, complex, and interrelated threats we face. Director Clapper noted “how quickly and radically the world—and our threat environment—are changing.” He stated there is an increasing risk to U.S. critical infrastructure from cyber attacks, in particular from isolated state or non-state actors using less sophisticated but still effective techniques that are more prevalent today. I ask unanimous consent to put an excerpt from this transcript in the record.

The terrorist threat continues to become more diffuse since the al-Qa’ida core leadership has been degraded and its affiliates in the Arabian Peninsula and Africa look to fill that void and strike against the United States. Countries like Iran and North Korea continue their efforts to develop ever more deadly weapons of mass destruction, and look to market them to counter their failing economies. And, the instability in the Middle East and North Africa that has grown since the Arab Spring continues to create more dangers and potential flashpoints in countries that three years ago were not assessed to have such risks.

In the past six months, it has been clear that the Intelligence Community needs to surge additional resources to collect and analyze intelligence on Northern Africa. Our policymakers need more and better information to deal with instability and terrorist activities in Libya, Mali, and Algeria. Under sequestration, however, agencies would be limited to do so. The same needs apply to address threats that emanate from Iran, North Korea, Syria, and cyberspace, to name just a few.

There’s no doubt that the Intelligence Community can reduce spending and contribute to the government-wide reductions. But to strip it of all flexibility to cut programs and personnel across the board makes no sense.

If our intelligence agencies are to absorb the cuts required by sequestration, our nation’s security would be better served by providing the Intelligence Community with the flexibility it needs to implement cuts in as responsible and thoughtful way under these circumstances.

The changes my amendment seeks are necessary to help the Intelligence Community adapt to a changing world as the sequestration reductions are implemented. I understand there may be concerns with how the other chamber will view this amendment, but I believe that our counterparts on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence—Chairman Mike Rogers and Ranking Member Dutch Ruppersberger—support making these changes to help intelligence agencies succeed in their mission.

Finally, Mr. President, let me make clear that this amendment is intended, and I believe does, have no effect on the visibility that Congress has in how the Intelligence Community will make budget reductions due to sequestration or with how these agencies reprogram funds. The only thing affected by the amendment is the size of the accounts from which sequestered funds must be taken.

On behalf of myself and Vice Chairman Chambliss, I urge adoption of the amendment.”