- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Members of Congress want to see financial and substantive reform plans from members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in a hearing today before the Judiciary Constitution subcommittee.

Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican and subcommittee chairman, said he hopes to take an opportunity with the commission’s new chairman, Gerald A. Reynolds, to retool the agency and put an end to partisan battles on the civil rights panel.

“Now that [former chairwoman] Mary Frances Berry is no longer at the helm, we want to work with the commission and reform it so it again becomes an entity we can be proud of,” Mr. Chabot said.

He said he visited the commission’s offices this week to get a feel for its operations and immediately noticed “there are a tremendous number of empty offices.”

“I think they certainly need to be more efficient,” Mr. Chabot said.

During the past 15 years or more, according to federal reports, the commission has been declining in terms of its management and financial accountability structure.

But it has been in recent years under Miss Berry’s leadership that the commission’s decline became a concern on Capitol Hill, after several reports from the General Accounting Office, members of Congress and other government accountability agencies about its poor fiscal management and other problems.

In recent years, much of the commission’s time was spent with liberal and conservative members battling each other over policies intended to narrow existing economic, social and health service gaps between whites and minorities.

Mr. Reynolds, a Republican who was appointed chairman in December, said he intends to fulfill his mission to strengthen the commission and will present a plan for fiscal and managerial improvements to the subcommittee today.

“We inherited an agency truly in a state of disarray, with financial and operational controls that took over a decade to reach where we are today,” Mr. Reynolds said.

“We’re dealing with the aftermath. I think it is unfortunate that we get into these partisan shootouts. I think the partisanship is a recipe for disaster for this organization.”

Meanwhile, Russell G. Redenbaugh, an independent who is the commission’s longest-serving member at 15 years, resigned this week. “I’m resigning because I’ve come to the realization that the commission cannot be reformed, and it doesn’t matter who is in charge,” he said.

He said the agency was never designed with a proper management and fiscal accountability structure, and he will recommend to Congress that the agency be shut down.

Mr. Chabot said he has not reached that conclusion. “But it concerns me that he would be frustrated now that Berry is gone, and we want to reform, so it does concern me,” he said.

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