But given the series of inquiries into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the prewar intelligence on Iraq, and his eight years presiding over "Oh-my-God hearings," the Kansas Republican said he saw the need to act.
On Monday, he put forward details of a plan to break up the CIA and rearrange the Pentagon's spy agencies under a single national intelligence director, among a litany of other changes outlined in a 139-page draft bill.
Roberts calls it "a marker" in the debate and said he expects changes. But with the legislation, he has solidified his position as a leading critic of the intelligence community by proposing the most far-reaching intelligence overhaul debated since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Roberts' proposal met immediate and broad resistance Monday.
The Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, said it would be a "severe mistake" to disband the CIA while it is embroiled in the war on terror.
Former CIA Director George Tenet, making his first public statement since he resigned last month, said Roberts' plan showed a "dangerous misunderstanding of the business of intelligence."
President Bush did not endorse Roberts' proposal Monday. Instead, the president said only that he was interested in finding "the best way to fashion intelligence so the president and his Cabinet secretaries have got the ability to make good judgment calls."
Mr. Bush has supported the need for a national director to oversee all intelligence-gathering, but has yet to detail the powers he wants the office to have.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he hadn't had a chance to see the restructuring proposal in writing.
"We do need to make significant adjustments in how we collect, communicate and dispense information," Rumsfeld told an audience of about 1,300 troops at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, on Monday.
But he added: "We have to be careful about it. ... You don't want, in the middle of the war, to go tearing up the pea patch."
Roberts surprised Republicans and Democrats alike when he announced on a Sunday morning talk show his proposal to remake the intelligence community by splitting the CIA into three separate agencies, pulling all or part of four defense intelligence agencies out of the Pentagon, and creating a new national intelligence director to oversee the National Intelligence Service he envisions.
On Monday, a defensive Roberts said, "If this proposal seems radical to some ... my response would be: What should we do?"
More than three-dozen attempts to reorganize the intelligence community over more than five decades have failed, he said, adding that he spoke last week with colleagues of both parties, and eight of his panel's nine Republicans have agreed that Congress must act. Democrats, meanwhile, criticized Roberts for not working in a more bipartisan fashion, and demanded more details.
Lawmakers who handle issues ranging from intelligence to banking are expected to offer proposals to revamp the intelligence community, prodded by a report from the independent Sept. 11 commission that offered more than 40 recommendations for such an effort.
In suggesting the appointment of a national director, the commission said the intelligence czar should "oversee national intelligence centers on specific subjects of interest across the U.S. government and … manage the national intelligence program and oversee the agencies that contribute to it."
Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, called Roberts' bill a "bold proposal" that conforms to what the commission recommended: Put one person in charge of the intelligence community.
"Is this where we will end up? Probably not exactly, but it's a good place to start the debate," DeWine said.
Yet Republicans were hardly in agreement and it seemed unlikely such a sweeping reorganization could be enacted in the single month Congress has left before its planned adjournment.
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., who as Armed Services Committee chairman oversees more than 80 percent of the intelligence budget, which is estimated at $40 billion a year, has yet to see the bill.
His spokesman, John Ullyot, said the senator "would have concerns about any plan that would transfer critical, well-functioning intelligence assets away from the Department of Defense during wartime."
Roberts rejects suggestions that he is abolishing the CIA, but he and his aides concede there would be nothing left called the CIA, nor would there be a CIA director.
Roberts said he is hoping to build momentum among the Sept. 11 commission members, the families of the attack's victims and his Senate colleagues.
Eyes are also still on Mr. Bush. A White House official said the staff is working on executive orders and presidential directives that can be done without legislation to implement commission recommendations.