"The position for which I am now nominated is a new position in a new era," said John Negroponte, who is leaving his post as ambassador to Iraq to become the first incumbent in the post created by last year's intelligence reform act.
"That being the case, I am not now prepared to describe in detail exactly how I plan to carry out the job," he told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Tuesday, adding he needs time to study the issue of his authorities and make recommendations to the president.
Negroponte was pressed by lawmakers irritated at the lack of detail.
"I must say I'm a bit taken back by the vagueness of your answer," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "I'm rather surprised by it, because it would seem to me that by now ... you must have some concept of what needs to be done."
The committee is holding two days of hearings to confirm Negroponte and the nominee as his deputy, Gen. Michael Hayden of the National Security Agency.
Both men have passed muster before Senate committees before and are expected to be confirmed by the end of the week.