WASHINGTON (AP) _ Amid a heated election-year debate on intelligence reform, the White House is expected to move soon on executive orders aimed at implementing a more powerful intelligence director and a new national counterterrorism center.
Bush administration and congressional officials said Thursday drafts of executive orders are circulating among relevant agencies for approval. One of the officials said the White House is floating proposed orders, and asking for feedback by Friday. Another official said the orders could be issued as early as Friday.
The orders would:
_Enhance the powers of the government's intelligence chief and create a national intelligence director.
_Form a national counterterrorism center, putting that office under the new intelligence director and giving the director the power to decide who runs it.
_Provide directions aimed at facilitating the exchange of information among intelligence agencies.
The CIA director currently oversees all 15 of the nation's intelligence agencies. A senior White House official said the administration is working on giving the CIA director additional authority to do the national intelligence director's job until the new position is created in law by Congress.
A congressional official also said the White House has asked for the quick feedback with the hopes of making an announcement before the start of the Republican National Convention on Monday, perhaps before the end of this week.
Debate over how to reshape the intelligence community picked up steam following the release of the Sept. 11 commission's 567-page report, which detailed events surrounding the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and made more than 40 recommendations to reform the government.
Relevant congressional committees have been working through the August recess to draft legislation to implement intelligence reforms. Even with the president's actions, Congress is expected to continue its work on legislation to overhaul U.S. intelligence.
Two senators working on such legislation said Thursday a new intelligence chief should have significant and clear power over the budget. How much power should be given to that chief _ both over policy and the purse _ has been an area of significant debate in Congress.
``My support for providing significant budget authority for the new national intelligence director has been strengthened,'' said Sen. Susan Collins, chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. The Maine Republican spoke after a closed hearing with senior officials from the Pentagon, CIA and FBI.
The committee's top Democrat, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, said: ``A strong case was made that if you are going to create a national intelligence director, it can't be a phony, it can't be cosmetic. It's got to be real and the way to make it real in this town is with budget authority.''
Collins and Lieberman, at the request of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Democratic leader Tom Daschle, are working to present the full Senate with an intelligence bill by the end of September. Lieberman said the goal was to win passage before Congress leaves for the November elections.
Both senators said they welcomed ideas proposed by other lawmakers about how best to overhaul intelligence operations. That includes a plan by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., that would break up the CIA and remove several intelligence agencies from the Pentagon.