Sun, Oct 09, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Congressional oversight of the AIT

By Peter Chen 陳正義

Taiwan has been — literally — lucky in the recent sequence of US Foreign Service officers who have shepherded US diplomacy with Taiwan. Naturally, we at the Formosan Association for Public Affairs are delighted that the Board of Trustees for the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) named John Norris the new managing director of the AIT’s Washington Office.

We have known Norris for decades and have been impressed by his creativity in shaping constructive policies that promote US interests in East Asia and especially by his understanding of Taiwan’s special relationship with our country.

Historically, the AIT’s leadership is selected from the ranks of the US Department of State’s most talented foreign service officers. Of course, one of the AIT’s most outstanding directors was James Lilley who himself had been a career intelligence officer — not a foreign service officer — before taking over at the AIT Taipei in 1982.

He was later deputy assistant secretary of state and twice performed with legendary vision, courage and leadership as US ambassador, first in South Korea and then in China. Lilley died in 2009, a passing that saddens us at Formosan Association for Public Affairs to this day.

Nonetheless, without going into too much detail, it must be said that the AIT board’s choices of senior officials have not always been ideal.

Which leads us to wonder: Where was congressional supervision? The Taiwan Relations Act, as an afterthought, mandates that the “appropriate committees of Congress shall monitor ... the operations and procedures of the Institute.”

However, there is precious little oversight in this regard. In many cases, stresses in US policies regarding Taiwan could have been remedied by the US Senate’s institutionalized “advice and consent” confirmation of AIT’s senior officials, the managing director in Washington, the director in Taipei, and the chairman and members of the AIT board of trustees.

The AIT is the only one of the three wholly US government-funded “non-government” defense and diplomatic entities whose directors are not subject to senate confirmation; the chiefs of the other two, the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the National Endowment for Democracy, both must have senate advice and consent.

The senate’s “advice and consent” are all the more necessary for the AIT because, unlike the Millennium Challenge Corporation and National Endowment for Democracy, the AIT has no independent purpose but to implement US government policy under the exclusive direction of the US Department of State. Department adviser Herbert Hansell said in his testimony on the creation of the AIT on Feb. 5, 1979, that “of course, all of the activities that would be conducted by the American Institute would be, by definition, on behalf of and with the consent of this [US] government.”

When the AIT was created by the Taiwan Relations Act, the then-deputy secretary of state assured the US Congress that the AIT would carry out all the functions “previously performed by our embassy in Taipei.”

The AIT’s articles of incorporation and its bylaws specify that its personnel are entirely the choice of the “Affairs’ Contracting officer’s representative,” that is the US Department of State. They further mandate that all of the institutes’ funding is provided by the department and under the department’s complete authority.

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