WASHINGTON - Top intelligence lawmakers of both parties called yesterday for quick hearings to evaluate Rep. Porter J. Goss' nomination to lead the CIA and the intelligence community.
Despite sweeping reforms under consideration to change the agency and the 14 other members of the intelligence community - including a likely overhaul of the leadership structure and budgeting process - several congressional leaders said the CIA needs a new director as soon as possible.
"We have a threat warning right now that's very high," Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, said yesterday on NBC's Meet the Press.
"We have a situation where we're worried about an attack prior to the election," said Roberts, who is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "We have a situation in Iraq that is very, very serious. We have a situation in Pakistan. We need a full-time director of central intelligence."
The CIA has been run by acting Director John E. McLaughlin since George J. Tenet's resignation from the post in early June.
Roberts said he and committee Vice Chairman Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, a West Virginia Democrat, have decided to move quickly to hold hearings, despite Rockefeller's initial opposition to Goss' nomination.
"We both have agreed that we're going to expedite the hearing," Roberts said.
The first such hearing is scheduled for Sept. 8.
Democrats have voiced several concerns over his nomination, including that he is too partisan for a position that requires giving independent advice to the president and too much a part of the old intelligence apparatus.
Rep. Jane Harman, vice chairwoman of the House Intelligence Committee and a Democrat from California, said she believes Goss, a Republican from Florida, will face a "tough set of confirmation hearings" next month.
"I think he should be asked some tough questions in the Senate," Harman said on Meet the Press, "and I know that he will be, about his independence from the White House, about his commitment to civil rights and about, especially, his commitment to implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission."
But, she said, she believes he will be confirmed and told Democrats not to pick "the wrong fight." She said concerns over the Sept. 11 commission's recommendations should take precedence.
"To get stuck in a fight about Porter Goss after tough questions are asked of Porter Goss is not where we ought to be this fall," said Harman, who, as a member of the House of Representatives, does not have a vote on the matter.
It remains unclear, though, just how the position of CIA director will fare if major reforms are passed. The CIA director is head of the CIA as well as the intelligence community, though with little budgetary or supervisory authority over the other agencies.
Changes under consideration, including the creation of a national intelligence director, could make the CIA chief a far less powerful position. White House officials have suggested in recent weeks that Bush is open to the idea of broadening the authority of the intelligence director position to include budgetary and personnel control over the CIA and other agencies.
If confirmed, Goss, who has criticized presidential candidate John Kerry in recent months, could lose the job if Kerry is elected in November.
There has been some speculation that Goss' nomination is merely a precursor to Bush appointing him intelligence director if the position is created.
Yesterday, Roberts seemed unsupportive of such a move, which would not require Senate input or consent.
"That's not going to work," Roberts said. "I just don't think that bucket holds any water. He's going to be nominated, and he will be confirmed as the director of central intelligence."