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The first specific use of presidential findings was precipitated by the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954, in which the findings indicated that certain conditions of that act had been satisfied and, therefore, sales of agricultural commodities could proceed. In their use under this act, such findings were published in the Federal Register and the CFR Title 3 compilations. In contrast, presidential findings in their modern use are not published in these or other governmental publications.
Current use of the presidential finding stems from the so-called Hughes–Ryan Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974, which prohibited the expenditure of appropriated funds by or on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency for intelligence activities "unless and until the President finds that each such operation is important to the national security of the United States and reports, in a timely fashion, a description and scope of such operation to the appropriate committees of Congress" (section 662). This was intended to ensure that clear responsibility for such action was attributable to the President and that Congress was always made aware of such activities. Due to the sensitivity of their content, presidential findings are almost always classified.
The most recent change to exercise of findings occurred in the Intelligence Authorization Act of 1991, which introduced increased flexibility in the reporting requirement: findings are to be "reported to the intelligence committees as soon as possible" after being approved "and before the initiation of the covert action authorized by the finding." As such, presidential findings are one of the primary means through which the intelligence committees exercise their oversight of the government's intelligence operations. However, the Intelligence Authorization Act allows the President to proceed without notifying Congress if he notifies them afterwards "in a timely fashion."
- "A Review of Congressional Oversight — Central Intelligence Agency". www.cia.gov. Retrieved 2016-09-12.
- "S.1325 - Intelligence Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 1991". U.S. Congress.
- Relyea, Harold C. (26 November 2008). "Presidential Directives: Background and Overview" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. Order Code 98-611 GOV.