- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2002

The Republican chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the White House says he won't move a $329 million appropriation for the Executive Office of the President if the administration continues to block congressional testimony by homeland security czar Tom Ridge.
Rep. Ernest Istook of Oklahoma delivered the ultimatum last week in a sharp warning to Office of Management and Budget Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., who appeared in front of the subcommittee on behalf of OMB's own $70.8 million request for fiscal year 2003, which starts Oct. 1.
"In all good conscience, I cannot recommend drawing taxpayer money from the Treasury for programs that are not understood, for operations that have not been fully explained to me and others in Congress, and for activities that commit us to future funding in unknown amounts that we have not taken the time to fully calculate," the chairman of the House Appropriations Treasury, Postal Service and general government subcommittee said.
Yesterday, OMB spokeswoman Amy Call said Mr. Daniels had no intention of commenting on Mr. Istook's position.
The White House has asked Congress for a $53.6 million increase in funding next year, including $30.5 million for Mr. Ridge's Office of Homeland Security, which runs a counterterrorism directorate out of the West Wing of the White House.
Mr. Istook and the panel's ranking Democrat, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, emphasized that a delay in the White House funding bill would not hinder counterterrorism or homeland security efforts, because Congress would take steps to provide necessary funding elsewhere and require the administration to run the programs out of other federal departments instead of the White House.
The administration has said that because Mr. Ridge is a presidential adviser and not a Cabinet official, he is not required to testify before Congress. But Mr. Ridge's refusal to testify has angered many on Capitol Hill.
"This is a serious constitutional issue, it's not just a disagreement over whether a presidential adviser should testify," Mr. Istook said in an interview.
Chances for the White House's appropriation request to pass as submitted are "slim to none" unless the administration allows Mr. Ridge to testify, he said.
"The debate is missing the point. The point is whether the president's executive order [creating Mr. Ridges position] gave him other duties that require him to be fully accountable to the Congress," Mr. Istook said.
He said the president's six-page executive order last October granted the homeland security director a wide range of responsibilities such as broad authority overseeing foreign intelligence relating to terrorism; ensuring that intelligence and law enforcement information is shared among federal, state, and local government agencies; the coordinated deployment of federal response teams; and protection of U.S. borders and transportation systems.
Mr. Istook said that such broad authority demands closer congressional scrutiny.
"Only once in a six-page, single-spaced, detailed order is [Mr. Ridges] mission declared to be that of simply giving advice," Mr. Istook told Mr. Daniels at an appropriations hearing last week. "That is when he is charged with reviewing and giving advice regarding budget matters. The remainder of the executive order is devoted to grants of actual authority to his office."
Mr. Hoyer said Mr. Ridge's testimony is essential because, so far, no White House officials have been able to explain to House appropriators how most of the requested $53.6 million increase for White House operations would be spent. He also said Congress needs to know how Mr. Ridge's office would control the administration's requested $38 billion for homeland-security purposes throughout the federal government.
"We had the White House director of administration, Phil Larsen, before the subcommittee last week, and he said he can't explain the increase," Mr. Hoyer said. "I think this White House has taken, frankly, the most obstinate view of explaining what they are doing with public money and what they are doing to form public policy."
Mr. Ridge's spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, said the homeland security director met privately Wednesday with Senate President Pro Tempore Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, to discuss the issue of testifying before Congress.
Mr. Johndroe said the meeting was cordial, but Mr. Ridge reaffirmed the administration's position against his formal testimony.
When asked Wednesday about Mr. Ridge's decision not to testify, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the long-standing tradition of executive privilege requires that presidential advisers not be called before Congress. He said testimony is reserved for Cabinet secretaries and other presidential appointees confirmed by the Senate.
"What the president feels very strongly about, that will not change, is Congress' attempt to compel testimony, in a dramatic break from a long-standing tradition that Congress has previously upheld vis-a-vis the executive branch," Mr. Fleischer said.
Mr. Johndroe said Mr. Ridge has no actual decision-making power over expenditure of federal money.
"Governor Ridge is an adviser to the president. He does not have operational nor does he have budget authority," Mr. Johndroe said. "That authority lies with the Cabinet secretaries and agency heads who can spend the money appropriated by Congress."
But most congressional leaders have rejected the White House argument, saying Mr. Ridge's position was structured to give him broad control over spending billions of dollars for homeland security far into the future, and over federal and state policies affecting millions of people.
"There's no question he claims to be a simple adviser and yet he's administering the whole war on terror; the homeland security effort is under his command," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. "So it's more than just an advisory role to the president. … I think it's important for him to come [before congressional committees]."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide