“I believe it’s in the NSA’s interests to be where she is today, because at the end of the day it’s about resources,” Dyer said. “I don’t want to diminish the power of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has a lot of things to do, but resources is not one of them. They want her to be the ultimate arbiter.”
Nonetheless, much of Mikulski’s work could be in defending the agency from greater cuts.
One past budget forecast, Aid said, concluded that the NSA would probably lose between 10 to 15 percent budget and the same portion of personnel — the agency employs an estimated 35,000 people, Aid said — by the end of the first term of the Obama administration.
That proved pessimistic, he said: “I don’t think they lost that much.” But in the next four years, barring a major national security breach, Aid said that the expectation is that the agency will go down to about 25,000 people and the budget would land somewhere in the vicinity of $6.5 to $7 billion.
Dyer was more skeptical that the NSA would be subjected to any serious cuts, regardless of who is chairing the Appropriations panel, given that it is a “mission-critical” agency.
Bamford said the agency does have a record of extravagant and wasteful spending in its recent past, such as on the failed data analysis program known as Trailblazer.
“NSA has just gotten huge amounts of money and Barbara Mikulski has been pushing for it all along,” he said. “Her track record isn’t very good for protecting taxpayer dollars because she’s out there like a salesman trying to get as much money from Congress as possible for NSA, but she hasn’t done much in terms of holding NSA up to accountability.”
Mikulski has pressed for the NSA to take on new cybersecurity missions and for the U.S. Cyber Command to be located in Fort Meade, the home of the NSA. Fort Meade is the top employer in Maryland, according to the state government. When counting the contractors who serve the NSA, its reach as an employer in Maryland expands further still.
In news releases, Mikulski frequently touts new buildings and projects she has sought and received funding for at the NSA. Although she voiced concerns about the warrantless surveillance program of the George W. Bush administration, she voted for the 2008 law (PL 110-261) that effectively authorized it and the recent extension (PL 112-238) of the law’s surveillance powers.
Mikulski is not the only Maryland lawmaker in a position of influence over the NSA. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence panel. His district includes the NSA’s headquarters at Fort Meade.
Following the speeches from elected officials, the crowd stands at long tables as they dig into BBQ, brunswick stew, cadillac rice at the Law Enforcement Cookout at Wayne Dasher's pond house in Glennville, Ga., on Thursday, April 17, 2014.