- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

A staff director for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights yesterday blamed complaints of internal management squabbles and misspending of funds on "philosophical differences" among members.
At a congressional hearing, Les Jin argued it is no secret that the commission is divided along political lines, and that those differences sometimes can spill over into other areas, such as management issues.
"The subcommittee will find that many of the alleged management issues are the result of disagreements based on civil rights policy that have spilled over into a debate on commission management," Mr. Jin told members of the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution.
"The ultimate test of good management is that the commission has produced quality work in a timely manner, covering a broad range of civil rights topics," he said.
Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican, called the hearing to ask Mr. Jin why the commission has drawn so much negative attention to itself over the last few months.
Republican members of the commission, who are in the minority, complain that their viewpoints are ignored at meetings and their dissents are excluded from formal reports. Charges of mismanagement, misspent funds and shredding of important documents also have surfaced.
In addition, panel Chairman Mary Frances Berry continues to fight a White House appointment of a Republican member, Peter Kirsanow. In that case, the parties disagree over whether the term of a sitting member is over. A U.S. Court of Appeals is reviewing the matter.
"The commission has become more a public spectacle than it is a serious fact-finding agency," Mr. Chabot said at the hearing. "This agency is in disarray, and it undermines public confidence."
Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, suggested that the commission be restructured. "Then the commission could go back to its purpose" of fighting for civil rights.
But Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, said the accusations and the hearing is just another "right-wing" campaign to smear the commission.
"This is a campaign of defamation against the commission," Mr. Nadler said. "I see no loss of public confidence in the commission."
Hilary Shelton, director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Washington bureau, said he was disappointed that the hearing even took place.
"It appears that the subcommittee's primary interest is not the substance of the commission's works, but rather the day-to-day details of the commission's internal management," he said in his testimony.
Republican commission member Abigail Thernstrom, a vocal critic of Miss Berry, outlined for the subcommittee some of the mismanagement problems that have plagued the commission since she was appointed to the panel last year.
Some of the problems outlined included the spending of money on an outside public-relations firm while the commission employs two full-time employees in its public-affairs office and the distribution of "inaccurate" press releases before consulting other panelists.
One example cited of mismanagement involved a special hot line that was set up after September 11 that people could call to report hate crimes and discrimination. A press release announcing the hot line listed a wrong phone number, which sent callers to a "love-connection" service, instead of the commission. It was later found that a similar hot line already existed.
"These problems, frankly, are the tip of a very large iceberg," Mrs. Thernstrom told the subcommittee. "The commission should function in a responsible manner. It should be a place of procedural integrity, a forum for robust debate, and a source of hard facts on current civil rights issues. It fails on all these counts."

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