| Capitol building in Washington DC. (Reuters)
Washington, Dec. 8 (Reuters): The House of Representatives yesterday approved a sweeping overhaul of US intelligence agencies, ending weeks of wrangling over the Pentagon's power under the reforms demanded after the September 11 attacks.
On a vote of 336-75, the House sent the measure to the Senate for final congressional approval. The bill, which creates a new director of national intelligence post, then goes to President George W. Bush for his promised signature.
The House passed the bill after lawmakers resolved differences over Pentagon authority on intelligence needed to help battlefield commanders, and Republican leaders decided to put off a fight over immigration issues until next year. Dozens of Republicans broke ranks with Bush and voted against it because the compromise bill omitted immigration provisions they wanted.
The bill, sought by some of the families of September 11 victims, would implement key recommendations made by the September 11 commission and create a new director of national intelligence with strong budget powers to oversee 15 US spy agencies. It also creates a new counter-terrorism centre that would plan and help oversee counterterrorism operations.
White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Bush monitored a broadcast of the House debate aboard Air Force One as he flew back to Washington from California.
'The President is very pleased with House passage. He knows that this bill will make America safer... He greatly looks forward to Senate passage and ultimately to signing the bill into law,' Duffy said in a conference call.
The bill is the biggest revamping of US intelligence in more than 50 years and the second major government overhaul since the September 11, 2001, attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon that killed almost 3,000 people. Congress earlier created the homeland security department that brought together various federal law enforcement agencies.
The bill stalled last month and appeared dead for the year, but found new life under pressure from families of victims of the September 11 attacks. Last-minute appeals by Bush to House Republican holdouts helped secure a final agreement between the House and Senate over language ensuring that battlefield commanders have priority access to intelligence assets.
Passage of the legislation was all but secured when House Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, and Senate Armed Services committee chairman John Warner, a Virginia Republican, on Monday announced their support after resolving the Pentagon authority issue.
Wrangling about the chain of command issue and a dispute over immigration provisions sought by House Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, had delayed passage of the bill after House and Senate negotiators thought they had completed a deal last month.
Sensenbrenner voted against the bill even though House leaders promised they would push next year for immigration provisions he unsuccessfully sought to include in the bill. The bill does contain other immigration and law enforcement measures, including minimum standards for drivers licences and other identification that is needed to board aircraft.