The nation’s top intelligence official warned Tuesday that sequestration is making the world a less safe place for the U.S.
James Clapper, director of national intelligence, said the across-the-board cuts, ordered March 1 as a result of the inability of Congress and the White House to come to a budget deal, interfere with intelligence-gathering efforts and provide no flexibility to shift money to the highest-priority threats.
Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Clapper said intelligence agencies are “willing to take their fair share” of budget reductions as long as they have the ability to set priorities.
Intelligence committee members said Clapper’s request made sense, and they were prepared to offer an amendment to the 2013 government funding bill now on the Senate floor that would give Clapper the ability to shift funds between programs.
However, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., a member of the intelligence committee who also is the powerful chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said an amendment to help intelligence agencies avoid some of the pain of budget cuts would be a “poison pill” that prevents the Senate from passing the funding measure needed to keep the government running beyond March 27.
The problem, she said, is that the House of Representatives passed its funding bill last week, and it provides flexibility to redistribute funds only to the Defense Department, not to any other federal agencies. Protecting intelligence agencies would lead supporters of other federal program to also ask for the ability to shift money, and could delay passage of the bill.
Mikulski gave the impression that she might oppose helping intelligence agencies unless more support can be drawn from House and Senate Republican leaders.
“All we want is to be treated the same as the Department of Defense,” Clapper said.
Sequestration cuts in intelligence programs would be “gradual and almost invisible” unless some major threat is missed that leads to an attack, Clapper said.