Mon, May 16, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Bush dragging his feet on rights monitor: senators

COMPLACENT The White House has delayed following through with a plan to set up a body that would ensure the war on terror didn't erode rights, a committee said

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

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.

Five months after the board was created, US President George W. Bush has yet to name any members or an executive director, and the US$750,000 budget for the board proposed by the White House is far less than the budgets of other federal panels, the senators said.

"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 Card Jr, the White House chief of staff, that was released on Friday.

The letter was signed by Senator Susan Collins, a Republican, who leads the Committee on Homeland Security, and by three Democrats: Senators Richard Durbin of Illinois, Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

The White House said in response to the senators' concerns that 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," 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 on board."

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 Oversight Board.

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 US$13 million devoted to a civil-rights office within the Department of Homeland Security.

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