The financially strapped U.S. Commission on Civil Rights voted yesterday to lay off employees, order a staff furlough and close two of six regional offices to save about $800,000.
The decision to cut about 9 percent of the budget was followed by news that at least four auditing firms had declined to examine the commission’s financial affairs because of the poor conditions of its records and because the agency has not had an audit in 12 years, according to commission member Peter N. Kirsanow.
The seven-member commission agreed to submit to an audit two weeks ago to put its finances in order and persuade Congress to approve a budget increase. The budget has fluctuated between $8 million and $9 million for more than a decade. As inflation rose, its staff fell from about 100 to 67 today.
The announcements were a major blow for the agency that was once called the conscience of the federal government, but they were not unexpected. The commission, which is deeply in debt, failed to pay $75,000 in rent last year and did not honor a $188,000 partial payment to employees who won an equal-opportunity complaint against it.
“This place is completely out of control and spiraling into a ditch,” Kirsanow said. The commission has no budget ledger, no budget director and no financial director and has been underpaying its employees’ benefits package.
But conservatives in Congress and on the commission blame former chairman Mary Frances Berry for financial mismanagement over 10 years.