Civil Rights Panel Will Now Submit to Audit

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights took its first steps to rectify its troubled financial state March 18 by unanimously adopting a series of reforms, including its first comprehensive audit in 12 years.

The commission approved the measures only three days after Commissioner Russell Redenbaugh resigned because of inaction by the new Republican majority.

Commissioner Peter Kirsanow, who championed the reforms with Redenbaugh prior to his resignation, told HUMAN EVENTS the agency was making progress after more than a decade of financial mismanagement under the watch of former Chairman Mary Frances Berry. “The commission, for the longest time, has been a commission out of control,” Kirsanow said. “It’s imperative for us–the Republicans who now have assumed the majority–to implement reforms expeditiously.”

The package of reforms adopted March 18 includes a full-blown audit for fiscal 2003 and fiscal 2004 to locate missing or misplaced financial documents and another audit by the Office of Personnel Management to be conducted after the first audit is completed.

Kirsanow also won an assurance to have Staff Director Ken Marcus research the possibility of hiring an inspector general. Finally, the commission voted to comply with long-ignored Government Accountability Office requests by December.

Redenbaugh, a political independent who often voted with the Republicans, told the House Subcommittee on the Constitution March 17 that Congress needs to scrap the commission and start a new one. After his testimony, Redenbaugh told HUMAN EVENTS: “It’s a commission run wild. I’m leaving because we didn’t make immediate reform and reorganization our highest priority. We’re participating in business as usual.”

Redenbaugh suggested his resignation would force the commission to implement reforms, as it did March 18. Two other commissioners, Vice Chairman Abigail Thernstrom and Jennifer Braceras, offered a different perspective. “This current administration has been in place for only three months,” Braceras told HUMAN EVENTS about the commission’s new GOP majority. “We’ve made an incredible amount of progress in that time, but it can’t be done overnight and it can’t be done without an eye toward what the reform itself will cost.”

Braceras blamed years of neglect by Berry and Les Jin, the former staff director. She said poor record keeping has made the financial problems hard to pinpoint, although she cited years of expensive commission meetings in far-flung locations as one possibility. Berry did not respond to phone and e-mail messages from HUMAN EVENTS.

Thernstrom said that while salaries and expenses have increased, the commission’s $9-million budget has not.

“It is a commission that was out of control, not is out of control,” Thernstrom told HUMAN EVENTS. “That’s precisely what we’re trying to do–to reform it so it’s a commission that works in an orderly and efficient way.”