Bush Lags on Creating Terror Panel
By Eric Lichtblau
The New York Times
May 15, 2005
WASHINGTON, May 14 - The White House has
been slow to establish an oversight board charged with ensuring
that the government's campaign against terrorism does not erode
privacy and civil rights, a bipartisan group of senators said
in a letter released Friday.
Five months after the board was created,
President Bush has yet to name any members or an executive director,
and the $750,000 budget for the board proposed by the White House
is far less than the budgets of other federal panels, the senators
"We urge the White House to take the
steps necessary to allow the board to begin functioning effectively
as soon as possible," the senators said in a letter to Andrew
H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff.
The letter was signed by Susan Collins,
Republican of Maine, who leads the Committee on Homeland Security,
and by three Democrats: Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Joseph
I. Lieberman of Connecticut and Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont.
The White House said in response to the
senators' concerns that Mr. Bush remained committed to giving
the board the staffing and resources it would need to monitor
and protect civil liberties in the fight against terrorism.
Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, declined
to say when board members might be named.
"We're working to finalize a list
of people," Mr. Duffy said, "and the hope is to move
quickly on this." He rejected charges that the effort had
gone too slowly, saying the president was "moving at the
appropriate pace, and he wants to make sure the right people are
The Sept. 11 commission, in its final report
last summer, noted the absence of any centralized federal office
to protect civil liberties in the campaign against terrorism,
and it urged the creation of such an office. Congress moved on
the idea last December as part of a broader restructuring of federal
intelligence operations, creating the Privacy and Civil Liberties
The move reflected a compromise that allowed
the White House to retain control of the panel and its membership.
Some House Democrats, calling the plan watered-down and ineffective,
have proposed a more independent body with greater subpoena power,
but that idea appears to have stalled in Congress.
In their letter to the White House, the
four senators asked for a timetable and details on how the panel
would be staffed and set up. The letter noted that the White House's
proposed budget for the board fell well below the $13 million
devoted to a civil rights office within the Department of Homeland
Security, the $39 million for the Office of the United States
Trade Representative and the $4 million for the Council of Economic
Timothy H. Edgar, legislative counsel for
the American Civil Liberties Union, said the White House's lack
of action reflected a resistance to aggressive monitoring of civil
liberties in the face of public concern about the government's
use of data mining, toughened immigration controls, expanded surveillance
powers and a host of other counterterrorism measures.
"With the centralization of power
in the intelligence community," Mr. Edgar said in an interview,
"you need to have some agency in government that's seriously
looking at protecting civil liberties. Instead, you have a real
lack of commitment from the White House, and they're not really
doing much of anything."