The watchdog role


Published: Saturday, January 15, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 14, 2005 at 9:54 p.m.
Mary Frances Berry, the chairwoman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission -- and a member for more than half of the commission's 47 years -- was recently replaced by an appointee of President George W. Bush when her term expired.
She often liked to say that she was "a watchdog, not a lapdog," and had been so much of a watchdog that President Reagan removed her and two other commission members. Asked why he did so, Reagan responded, "She serves at my pleasure, and she's not giving me any pleasure."
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a successful lawsuit on behalf of the three commissioners, and the three were reinstated.
Berry has been a thorn in the side of five presidents. In her promotion and protection of civil rights, she has offended Democratic and Republican leaders alike.
Her most recent offensive was a lengthy report critical of Bush's civil rights leadership that went out shortly before the election.
Given the chance to replace Berry, Bush jumped at it -- perhaps because of her outspokenness.
Indeed, her replacement, Gerald Reynolds, is a bookish, conservative lawyer for an energy company in Kansas City. He ran the Office of Civil Rights at the Education Department briefly. His statements indicate he will, as Reagan might have said, be more pleasurable to the White House.
One step forward for politeness, one slide back for keeping civil rights' issues in the spotlight.
But watchdogs must be careful they don't have fleas. Berry's detractors pointed out she had plenty of them.
The Government Accounting Office has issued critical reports on the commission. One of them recently noted that an independent financial audit -- required by law -- had not been done "in at least 12 years," and that the commission had not acted to meet the requirements of the Accountability of Tax Dollars Act of 2002.
The GAO's report also noted that the commission had not updated its strategic plan, and the current one "lacks a firm basis on which to develop its annual goals and evaluate its performance."
Costs were not associated with related projects, GAO advice from previous audits was ignored and guidelines were not followed when contracts were awarded, the report said.
Peter Kirsanow, a black conservative commission member, said agency management "is completely dysfunctional." And a House Judiciary subcommittee is investigating the commission's "management, financials, contracting," said Mindy Barry, oversight counsel for the subcommittee, to The Washington Times.
Obviously, the Civil Right Commission needs to be held accountable, just like any other public agency. But with the replacing of Mary Frances Barry the larger concern is that a lot of the bite has gone out of the nation's civil rights watchdog.
We can only hope that the remaining commissioners will remember that their duty is to serve the American people, and the cause of justice and equality, and not the current administration.
The watchdog role The replacement of an outspoken Civil Rights Commission chairwoman may indicate that the watchdog is losing its bite.
Mary Frances Berry, the chairwoman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission - and a member for more than half of the commission's 47 years - was recently replaced by an appointee of President George W. Bush when her term expired.
She often liked to say that she was "a watchdog, not a lapdog," and had been so much of a watchdog that President Reagan removed her and two other commission members. When asked why he did so, Reagan responded, "She serves at my pleasure, and she's not giving me any pleasure."
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a successful lawsuit on behalf of the three commissioners, and the three were reinstated.
Berry has been a thorn in the side of five presidents. In her promotion and protection of civil rights, she has offended Democratic and Republican leaders alike.
Her most recent offensive was a lengthy report critical of Bush's civil rights leadership that went out shortly before the election.
Given the chance to replace Berry, Bush jumped at it - perhaps because of her outspokenness.
Indeed, her replacement, Gerald Reynolds, is a bookish, conservative lawyer for an energy company in Kansas City. He ran the Office of Civil Rights at the Education Department briefly. His statements indicate he will, as Reagan might have said, be more pleasurable to the White House.
One step forward for politeness, one slide back for keeping civil rights issues in the spotlight.
But watchdogs must be careful they don't have fleas. Berry's detractors pointed out she had plenty of them.
The Government Accounting Office has issued critical reports on the commission. One of them recently noted that an independent financial audit - required by law - had not been done "in at least 12 years," and that the commission had not acted to meet the requirements of the Accountability of Tax Dollars Act of 2002.
The GAO's report also noted that the commission had not updated its strategic plan, and the current one "lacks a firm basis on which to develop its annual goals and evaluate its performance."
Costs were not associated with related projects, GAO advice from previous audits was ignored, and guidelines were not followed when contracts were awarded, the report said.
Peter Kirsanow, a black conservative commission member, said agency management "is completely dysfunctional." And a House judiciary subcommittee is investigating the commission's "management, financials, contracting," said Mindy Barry, oversight counsel for the subcommittee, to The Washington Times.
Obviously, the Civil Rights Commission needs to be held accountable, just like any other public agency. But with the replacing of Mary Frances Barry, the larger concern is that a lot of the bite has gone out of the nation's civil rights watchdog.
We can only hope that the remaining commissioners will remember that their duty is to serve the American people and the cause of justice and equality - not the current administration.

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