Recent revelations about the National Security Agency's vast surveillance system and its enormous ability to snoop is raising important questions about the legality of such conduct -- and sprouting reform proposals on Capitol Hill aimed at curbing the agency's surveillance authority.
Rep. Mark Sanford, with backing from the rest of the S.C. Republican delegation -- Reps. Jeff Duncan, Trey Gowdy, Mick Mulvaney, Tom Rice and Joe Wilson -- is pushing through a bill worthy of passage that would bring more accountability to the agency.
The National Security Agency Inspector General Act, H.R. 3436, would make the job of NSA inspector general a presidential appointment that must also be confirmed by the Senate.
Currently, the person in the post, whose job it is to investigate and watchdog the agency, is hired and overseen by the NSA director. The arrangement could result in little to no criticism of the agency because the inspector general could be removed by the director.
Making it an appointed position would free the inspector general to sound alarms -- even if it meant trouble for those at the top of the agency. And that could help ensure an agency that is more accountable to the American public.
An appointed inspector general is not a new notion. They already exist at the CIA, Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security.
In a recent opinion piece, Britt Snider, the former CIA inspector general from 1998 to 2001, noted that making the CIA inspector general an appointed post created a level of independence that better served the public.
"Not only was the inspector general's office viewed differently after the law was passed, but the office itself was different," Snider wrote. "It decided which of the CIA's activities would be investigated, inspected or audited without waiting for direction or approval from agency management. Employees of the IG's office no longer had to worry about the potential effect on their careers if their findings and conclusions were critical of the agency."
The bill would also require that the NSA's director be confirmed by the Senate. This piece of the bill could be problematic, ensnaring the agency in political theatrics, played out before TV cameras. The Obama administration has warned it could also lead to delays in filling the important national security position.
That piece of the bill deserves more debate. But we agree with the bill's main focus of appointing future inspector generals.
The bill now has 16 co-sponsors including three Democrats and is awaiting a committee hearing.
It's a small change, but one that would ensure at lease one pair of critical eyes is focused on the NSA.