Washington President Bush is urging Congress to create a strong national intelligence director to control the nonmilitary portions of the nation's intelligence community, a position similar to what was envisioned by the 9-11 commission.
Bush said Wednesday that his plan "strengthens the intelligence services" and would address the commission's criticism that the nation's 15 intelligence agencies failed to work properly together to stop the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington.
The president said he also wanted to give a new national intelligence director power to decide how to spend money Congress earmarks for nonmilitary intelligence work, a key portion of the 9-11 commission's recommendations.
"We believe that there ought to be a national intelligence director who has full budgetary authority," the president.
Bush, however, would leave the Defense Department in charge of the military intelligence agencies and would not give the intelligence director unilateral hiring and firing power, as the commission and some lawmakers have advocated.
Yet Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who has co-authored intelligence overhaul legislation with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the president's announcement a "turning point" that may help push legislation through Congress.
The White House had not previously endorsed giving the national intelligence director budgetary authority, but many senators have echoed the 9-11 commission's call for enabling a national intelligence director to hire and fire leaders of the intelligence agencies and control the money Congress provides the agencies.
While Bush readies his proposal, the Senate plans on proceeding with bipartisan legislation it has been working on since the beginning of August.
The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee has scheduled a vote on that legislation in two weeks. The panel's chairwoman, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Wednesday that Bush's "recommendations today will be useful as Senator Lieberman and I continue work in drafting our legislation."
Other senators, such as Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., have their own legislation to be considered.