A(nother) Procedural Roadblock for Drone Casualty Reporting Requirements

Yesterday, efforts to bring greater transparency to the U.S. drone program hit a(nother) legislative procedural roadblock, as the House Rules Committee voted to not include an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act offered by Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) in the debate of the bill before the full House. The amendment would have required the President to publicly issue an annual report on the number of persons killed by U.S. drone strikes. As regular readers know, we’ve been following closely since the fall the various (and competing) drone casualty reporting proposals working their way through Congress (for example, here, here, here, and here).

By way of brief background for the unfamiliar, at the most basic level (but with varying degrees of specificity), each proposal would require the President to release a public report on the number of civilian and combatant casualties killed in U.S. drone strikes (for earlier discussions on the substance of the proposals, see e.g., here and here). Back in November, the House and Senate intelligence committees debated including a similar reporting requirement in the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2014. The SSCI-approved version of the bill included the provisions; whereas, HPSCI rejected a Schiff-sponsored amendment to include the reporting requirements in the House version. Ultimately, however, the proposal was never enacted.

Fast forward to earlier this year, the SSCI announced last month that it was, at the behest of the Administration, dropping the reporting requirement from its version of the FY 2015 intel authorization bill. Meanwhile, Representatives Schiff and Jones introduced a standalone bill in the House to require drone casualty reporting. However, as I predicted at the time, Schiff/Jones standalone legislation had slim chances of passage, given that the HPSCI rejected a similar reporting requirement only months before.

Evidently, Schiff and Jones agreed that the standalone bill would likely not pass and, therefore, this week introduced their amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2014-15 (H.R. 4681). Yesterday, however, the Rules Committee decided that the debate before the full House on the intel authorization bill would be a structured debate with limited amendments and voted not to include the Schiff/Jones amendment in the debate of the bill on the House floor. The result: prospects of enacting any drone casualty reporting requirements (which were already pretty dim) just became a little more remote.

[h/t to Katherine Hawkins (@Krhawkins5) who highlighted this development last night on Twitter.]
 

About the Author(s)

Thomas Earnest

Former Managing Editor of Just Security (2013-14) Follow him on Twitter (@thomasdearnest).