What does it take to head up the State Department’s refugee portfolio? We’d start with proven management skills, experience with billion-dollar budgets, knowledge of refugee issues and a commitment to the president’s agenda. Ellen Sauerbrey, President Bush’s nominee and current ambassador to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, has all of these. But in the wake of the Michael Brown debacle at FEMA, her critics want the Senate to think she’s an unqualified crony. In this case, the facts simply don’t bear it out.
Mrs. Sauerbrey is a proven manager of large organizations. Before she was candidate for Maryland governor in 1994 and 1998 and a member and minority leader of the Maryland House of Delegates (1978-94), Mrs. Sauerbrey was a regional U.S. census manager who hired and oversaw 300 people in three urban counties. She finished the census under budget and earlier than most other large districts. We hope the critics who say she “has no experience administering the types of large-scale programs” that the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration runs are reading this. They clearly don’t know much about the U.S. Census, one of the government’s most complex operations.
Mrs. Sauerbrey also knows billion-dollar budgets. In the Maryland House, she sat on the appropriations, ways and means and joint budget committees, where for years she helped manage the state’s multi-billion-dollar budget. Highlights include building an alternative budget for the entire state. By comparison, the refugee bureau’s budget is only $700 million.
On refugee issues, Mrs. Sauerbrey is solid. As ambassador to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, Mrs. Sauebrey spends much of her time working on HIV/AIDS in the developing world, the sex trade and women’s educational needs — all of which are key issues for refugees. She has also been a driving force behind the push to end trafficking in women and children, something the U.N. crowd mostly ignored until the Bush administration.
What could be so troubling about Mrs. Sauerbrey? We can only think of two possibilities. First, Mrs. Sauerbrey is a strong pro-lifer, something that troubles the permanent humanitarian-aid establishment and international abortion lobby. She was booed at a U.N. conference in March for saying that the Bush administration “do[es] not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance.” Clearly the powers that be dislike her views.
The other possibility is that the career types might see in Mrs. Sauerbrey another John Bolton. Mrs. Sauerbrey is not a career diplomat or humanitarian-aid specialist; she lacks an establishment pedigree. Worst of all for them, she appears to have strong convictions — which, by the way, are shared by the president. If confirmed, she might upset business as usual in the way Mr. Bolton has at the United Nations.
We hardly expect Mrs. Sauerbrey’s critics to come clean and admit that her views on abortion or the fact that she’s an outsider are the reasons they oppose her. But they should drop the argument that she is an unqualified crony. It simply won’t wash.