Clapper: Sequestration 'quite damaging' to national intelligence

Friday - 2/15/2013, 9:21am EST

James Clapper, director, National Intelligence

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Defense leaders have been raising the alarm about sequestration, the automatic budget cuts slated to go into effect next month that would lop nearly 10 percent from the Defense budget.

But the head of the nation's intelligence community — a conglomeration of 17 agencies across six Cabinet departments — has mostly kept quiet. No longer.

Speaking to Federal News Radio's Francis Rose, Director of National Intelligence Gen. James Clapper said the automatic spending cuts, coming so late in the fiscal year, would "dramatically" reduce the funding needed to carry out critical intelligence work.

"There's been a lot of publicity about the impact on defense and the hollow force and that sort of thing," Clapper said. "Well, it has an equally damaging impact on the intelligence community if, in fact, we have to do it."

The situation is further complicated because some elements of the National Intelligence Program are funded by defense appropriations (meaning they will be subject to about a 9 percent cut) and some budget items are funded by nondefense appropriations (subject to about 7 percent in cuts).

The top-line budget for the National Intelligence Program is $55 billion, however specifics about the intelligence budget remain classified.

Clapper spelled out a few key — and unclassified — areas that would be hit particularly hard by the budget cuts.

  • Analysis and enabling analytic tools "will be scoped back substantially," Clapper said. "What this means is, the potential to miss the early signs of a threat and to respond to our consumers — policymakers, military commanders — will suffer.

  • Human intelligence will have to be reduced, Clapper said, and there will likely be fewer counterintelligence and security professionals on the job.

  • Overhead collection architecture. "We may have to renegotiate contracts for acquisition and operations," he said. "This could affect our launch schedule. So, depending on the outcome of what we're able to mitigate, we risk going blind or deaf here."

Clapper said he is pursuing all possible avenues to mitigate the impact of the cuts, particularly employee furloughs.

"I'm going to do all we can in the [intelligence community], particularly as it impacts critical mission functions, not to furlough people for the simple reason that the most important resource we have in the intelligence community is our people," he said. "And we simply can't separate the people from the mission."

Clapper said he'll be meeting with the leaders of the various intelligence agencies next week to hear how they've planned for the cuts.

"In almost 50 years in intelligence, I don't remember when we've had a more diverse array of threats and crisis situations around the world to deal with and, in the face of that, doing this sequestration thing is quite damaging," he added.

Clapper said he may seek reprogramming authority from Congress — the ability to shift funds specifically appropriated for one project or program — which is typically a "tough process," because it requires a number of congressional committees with oversight authority to agree on the shift.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has suggested giving the Defense Department automatic reprogramming authority to shift funds. But that's controversial in Congress because it would circumvent congressional oversight.

"Obviously, anything that would give me more latitude, more flexibility, any relief at all from the straitjacket we're in at the current time would be very helpful," Clapper said.

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