- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 31, 2002

Congress' difficulty in getting homeland security czar Tom Ridge to testify about the administration's proposed $38 billion counterterrorism program is reminiscent of problems lawmakers had during World War II with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Office of War Mobilization, a congressional study has found.
Like Mr. Ridge, the OWM's director, James F. Byrnes, was appointed by presidential executive order and had sweeping jurisdiction over all agencies to coordinate the war effort at home, says a report issued by the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress.
"Byrnes did not have 'statutory powers,' such as responsibility for administering a program, so he was not accountable to Congress in that regard, but he did serve as a presidential liaison to Congress to negotiate the drafting of legislation," said the report written by government and finance analyst Harold C. Relyea for members and committees of Congress.
The report summarizes the reasons for problems between Mr. Ridge, director of the White House Office of Homeland Security, and Congress, owing to his refusal as a presidential adviser to be interrogated publicly by appropriating committees of the House and Senate.
Congress had the same problem with Mr. Byrnes in the 1940s, and solved it by passing legislation to make his office statutory.
According to the congressional study, Mr. Byrnes, like Mr. Ridge, "informally kept in touch with members of Congress." The Roosevelt aide also "agreed to follow up on conflicting war programs identified by Sen. Harry S. Truman and his Senate Special Committee to investigate the National Defense Program, but avoided interceding with Congress on behalf of individual departments."
Unlike Mr. Ridge, Mr. Byrnes did agree to testify occasionally before Congress, but not as much as House and Senate committees wanted, the report indicates. Mr. Byrnes "appears to have been an infrequent witness before congressional committees, which is reportedly why Congress made the appointment of the [Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion] director subject to Senate confirmation," the report says.
The law passed in 1944 was called the War Mobilization and Reconversion Act. "This act, by one near-contemporary estimate, was 'considered the broadest grant of power ever legislated by Congress, creating for the first time by statute a superdepartmental director over the whole range of home-front executive activities for war and reconversion powers so great that some critics questioned the constitutionality of such a grant to anyone short of the president,'" the CRS report says.
Mr. Byrnes continued as director of the new office for another year, operating out of the White House, where he was "regarded as second only to the president on the home front," the report said. He became secretary of state in 1945.
"Because the direction of [Office of Homeland Security] is vested in a presidential assistant, no Senate approval of the Ridge appointment was necessary, because all White House Office staff are appointed without Senate confirmation. However, this situation and the advisory role that senior White House officials play severely limit congressional access to such presidential aides," the study notes.
"Traditionally, they have come before congressional committees only to explain very serious allegations of personal misconduct. Otherwise, attempts by congressional overseers and investigators to require their appearance and testimony before committees has usually been met by presidential invocations of so-called executive privilege the privilege of the president to exercise a discretion, based upon the constitutional separation of powers doctrine, regarding the questioning of his advisers."
Mr. Ridge has been negotiating with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, and ranking Republican, Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, to give a less formal briefing to House and Senate committees next month, in which he would take questions from lawmakers.
Mr. Byrd, on Monday, said he and Mr. Stevens have asked for a personal meeting with Mr. Bush to discuss the prospect of Mr. Ridge's testimony. "I remain hopeful that the president will respond favorably to Senator Stevens and me," he said.
But Mr. Byrd is not satisfied with Mr. Ridge's compromise proposal, aides said. The West Virginia Democrat's initial reaction was "to question if the offer satisfies Congress' prerogative" to oversee federal programs and appointees with broad powers over how federal money is spent.
Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, and Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, have introduced legislation to create a Cabinet-level Department of National Homeland Security, whose secretary would be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
The proposed agency would include the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs Service, U.S. Border Patrol, Federal Emergency Management Agency, elements of the FBI and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, "and others that are designed to protect critical infrastructure and information security," Leslie Phillips, Mr. Lieberman's spokeswoman, said.


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