House Investigates Panel on Civil Rights; Commission's Finances at Issue

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 4, 2004 | Go to article overview

House Investigates Panel on Civil Rights; Commission's Finances at Issue


Byline: Steve Miller, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A House Judiciary subcommittee is investigating the finances of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, whose chairman, Mary Frances Berry, is in a dispute over whether her term ends this week or next month.

"We are looking into management, financials, contracting," confirmed Mindy Barry, oversight counsel for the Constitution, civil rights and property rights subcommittee, which has authorized but not yet used a subpoena to obtain the needed information.

The subpoena seeks "all documents referring to all contracts, specifically dealings with [public relations firms] McKinney and Associates and McKinney and McDowell; all documents regarding any fees paid to anyone," said a source familiar with the investigation.

Earlier this year, the commission refused to cooperate in a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation.

The subcommittee's inquiry was triggered by unsatisfactory reviews by the GAO, which sought to find out how the commission spent its money.

"It also comes from the fact that over the years, this commission has not been held accountable on a number of levels," Ms. Barry said, adding that while the commission is not "large on the radar screen" of oversight with a $9 million budget and 70 employees, "it is seen by so many as giving a bad name to civil rights, to that cause."

The review of the eight-member commission comes on the heels of an October GAO report that said, among other problems, the panel needed to update its strategic plan. The GAO said the commission's current plan "lacks a firm basis on which to develop its annual goals and evaluate its performance."

The review also said the commission's financial record keeping did not follow procedure, that it failed to associate costs with stated projects, and that in many instances, it failed to follow the advice of the GAO from previous reviews.

"Over the past decade, we reviewed the commission's travel, management and financial practices and made recommendations for improvement," the GAO said, noting that the commission, without an independent financial audit "in at least 12 years," had not acted on a suggestion that a review be undertaken to meet the fiscal responsibilities of the Accountability of Tax Dollars Act of 2002, which ended in October. …

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