By Donna Smith
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Republican leaders unveiled sweeping legislation on Friday that they said reflects Sept. 11 commission recommendations for reforming U.S. intelligence operations.
But critics said their proposal for a new national intelligence director would have far less authority than the panel suggested and raised concerns that some law enforcement and immigration provisions could bog the measure down.
The bill also includes far-reaching proposals on law enforcement, immigration, border security and foreign policy, going beyond legislation the Senate is to consider next week.
"Our bill is the most comprehensive effort yet introduced that deals with the problems uncovered by the 9/11 Commission," said Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican.
"We wrote this bill to make sure that we have the best interests of the American people and the security of the American people at heart," he added. "We want to do the things that we must do to catch terrorists and keep terrorists from attacking the American people."
Among dozens of provisions of the House bill is a measure that would make it easier for government agents to conduct surveillance of terrorism suspects who operate with no clear connection to foreign groups.
Republican aides said the House proposal would establish a new national intelligence director post to oversee U.S. intelligence operations with extensive authority over budget matters. But the Pentagon, which now controls about 80 percent of the roughly $40 billion intelligence budget, would maintain significant control.
About a half dozen House committee chairmen have been involved in writing the bill and those panels are scheduled to act on the measure next week. Hastert said the full House would consider the bill during the first week of October.
"It's our intent to have this bill done before the election," Hastert said.
LITTLE INPUT BY DEMOCRATS?
House Democrats complained they were allowed little input.
"Instead of acting in a bipartisan manner, the Republican leadership is introducing a bill, written behind closed doors, that attempts to score partisan points and goes far outside the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California
With national security a major issue in the presidential and congressional campaigns, House and Senate leaders are pushing to clear legislation before Nov. 2.
The commission that investigated the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon found "deep institutional failings" in U.S. intelligence agencies, including a failure to share information that might have prevented the attacks.
It is unclear whether final legislation can be passed before Nov 2, with only a few weeks left before lawmakers break for some last-minute campaigning.
Differences between the House and the Senate about the new national intelligence director's authority over the budget and personnel and the Pentagon's power would have to be worked out before a bill can reach the president.
"This is a fairly weak bill," a Democratic aide said of the intelligence reform proposals. "It is seriously deficient from what the Sept. 11 commission wanted."
He said a counterterrorism center proposed by House Republicans would also be weaker than envisaged by the Sept. 11 commission or the proposed Senate legislation.