President Clinton's decision this month to create a new advisory board to study race relations in America underscores the lack of influence wielded by the existing Commission on Civil Rights, some officials say.
Mr. Clinton hopes to champion racial and ethnic harmony through a new, yearlong "national dialogue" on race. But critics note that his advisory board members uniformly favor racial preferences, whereas commission members have decidedly more diverse views on racial policies.
Rep. Charles T. Canady, Florida Republican and a leading congressional opponent of race-based preferences, said, "It seems like the [board] members are pretty much all of the same mind-set. That's not going to lead to much of a dialogue."
White House officials deny there was any type of affirmative action "litmus test" used in selecting advisory board members.
"There was no attempt to get individuals who all thought the same way," a White House official said.
"But there are certain principles the president holds dear, and affirmative action is one of them. So, yes, we did look for people who were `on the same wavelength,' " the official said.
White House Deputy Chief of Staff Sylvia Mathews acknowledged as much at a press briefing on the new board: "The people that are mainly vocal against affirmative action are not a part of the advisory board."
Even so, another White House official told The Washington Times, "I suspect they [board members] will have different views on how to solve problems." Moreover, there will be "any number of opportunities for people opposed to affirmative action to give their input," such as at the series of planned town halls and meetings.
"So what's the point of having a civil rights commission?" asked one commission source, who asked not to be named. "It's essentially an end-run around the commission."
By contrast, Republican and Democratic appointees on the civil rights commission tend to have opposing views on many racial issues, the source said, with the polarization between the two sides occasionally hindering the commission's effectiveness.
The commission, a bipartisan panel of eight members - appointed by the president and both houses of Congress - monitors enforcement of civil rights laws and studies racial and ethnic tensions. Last year, for example, the commission held a series of forums in Southern cities on the burning of black churches.
Mr. Canady offered one explanation for the president's newest advisory board: "I suspect that asking the existing civil rights commission to focus on an issue would lack the `drama' of establishing a new entity."
Nevertheless, he acknowledged that the Commission on Civil Rights' charter is "not that different from the one Clinton established for his new panel. …