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Budget Cuts Risk Harm to National Security, Clapper Says

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March 12 (Bloomberg) -- The top U.S. intelligence official said more than 5,000 contract workers may be dismissed and thousands of FBI employees put on furloughs under across-the-board budget cuts.

“The degradation to intelligence will be insidious,” James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said today in presenting an annual assessment of worldwide threats to the Senate intelligence committee.

The automatic reductions known as sequestration would require cutting $4 billion from the intelligence budget, or about 7 percent, for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, Clapper said. The cut is equivalent to a 13 percent reduction because all of it must be absorbed within the next seven months, he said.

Clapper said he will submit a reprogramming request to Congress to shift funding within his budget so as to avoid “egregious cuts.”

“Sequestration jeopardizes our nation’s safety and security” and the risk will grow more severe over time, Clapper said. The cuts risk “another damaging downward spiral” in intelligence operations, he said.

Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the panel’s top Republican, said the committee is “committed to ensuring the intelligence community does not suffer from the lack of resources” due to sequestration.

Seeking Legislation

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the panel’s Democratic chairman, said she will offer an amendment to spending legislation to give the intelligence agencies greater flexibility in implementing budget cuts.

A House-passed stopgap spending measure provides such leeway for the Pentagon, and the Senate is considering comparable legislation this week by Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski that would extend the flexibility to certain domestic agencies.

Mikulski of Maryland, who heads the Senate Appropriations Committee, said at today’s hearing that, while details need to be worked out, “we do want to work with you.”

Clapper told the panel, “All we’re asking for is the latitude in implementing them so we can minimize the damage.”

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To contact the reporters on this story: Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net; David Lerman in Washington at dlerman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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