Empowering The House Intelligence Committee to be Smarter

How do you help Members of the House Intelligence Committee makes the best decisions about matters concerning national security? In part, it’s by making sure that they receive the best staff support possible. That’s why a bipartisan coalition of 16 organizations sent a letter Friday in support of a congressional request for high security clearances for staffers. Let me explain….

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (a.k.a. House Intelligence Committee or HPSCI) has its staff hired by the chair and ranking member of the committee. Because of the nature of intelligence committee work, public and outside experts are less able to render assistance than with other committees.

As a result, members of Congress rely more than usual on their staff to provide confidential advice and assistance — and those staff must have the highest levels of clearance to be useful. It is only with top clearances that it becomes possible to ask the probing questions of intelligence briefers and to have fully informed conversations with Members of Congress. While committee staff can be useful, personal office staff play a unique and distinct role as compared to committee staff in fulfilling this need for individualized assistance.

That is why, in part, that each Senator who serve on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (a.k.a. Senate Intelligence Committee or SSCI) hires a staffer who is responsible to that Senator, can obtain the highest level of clearance, and provides support concerning the work of SSCI.

Providing members of HPSCI with personal office staffers with top security clearances creates parity with the Senate and also expands the pool of staff a Member of Congress with intelligence responsibilities can rely upon.

All this can be accomplished through $125,000 in additional funding to the House Sergeant at Arms to allow personal office designees of members who serve on HPSCI to be able to undergo Top Secret Sensitive Compartmented Information Security (TS/SCI) investigations.

It’s not just us that thinks this would be useful. Eight Members of the House Intelligence Committee, coordinated by Rep. Jackie Speier, requested that appropriators make these funds available to the Sergeant at Arms.

Some may fret that providing 20-odd congressional staffers high clearance may pose security problems, but considering more than 660,000 executive branch employees have top secret clearance and more than 500,000 contractors have top secret clearance, I suspect the real danger comes from a lack of oversight, not an empowered Congress.

— Written by Daniel Schuman