Civil Rights Commission in Turmoil

Erin Texeira, AP, Mar. 16

Its longest-tenured member resigned abruptly, its senior officials were ordered to testify before a House subcommittee Thursday about bungled operations and financial problems, and a fight is developing over its long-term agenda.

These are tough days for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Commissioner Russell G. Redenbaugh quit the eight-member panel unexpectedly Tuesday, calling it a “national embarrassment” that should be disbanded. Redenbaugh, who had served since 1990, is one of several commissioners due to testify Thursday before the House constitutional subcommittee.

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The commission’s former chair, 25-year veteran Mary Frances Berry, left the panel under pressure last December after quarreling with the Bush administration over the release of a draft report critical of the president’s civil rights record. At the same time, Vice Chairman Cruz Reynoso and the agency’s staff director also were ousted. In January, Commissioner Christopher Edley, Jr., resigned in protest.

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The recent changes came amid intensifying scrutiny of the commission by the Government Accountability Office, which in 1997 issued a report that called it “an agency in disarray.” In a series of critical reports since then, the GAO has repeatedly accused the commission of failing to properly track its finances, poorly managing projects and abandoning strategic planning.

In recent years, debates at commission meetings often deteriorated into personal attacks, with commissioners freely trading insults. And the fact-finding work at its core slowed to a crawl. Last July, a report was issued on possible bias against Korean residents in Baltimore—six years after the local commission-run hearing that aired those issues.

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