THREE BU.S.H APPOINTEES RAISE SIGNIFICANT FITNESS ISSUES
by William Fisher
American Reporter Correspondent
Old Chatham, N.Y.
OLD CHATHAM, N.Y. -- Critics of President George W. Bush's administration are charging that recent appointments suggest the President has failed to learn from the Katrina disaster and the Harriet Miers nomination and continues to favor political loyalty over qualifications and competence.
They point to three appointments in particular: Paul Bonicelli to oversee the democracy and governance programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Ellen Sauerbrey to head the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, and Julie Myers to head U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
During Hurricane Katrina, the administration was sharply criticized for the dysfunctional response of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, and its director, Michael Brown. Brown, a Republican political operative with no prior experience with natural disasters, was ordered to leave New Orleans and return to Washington by Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff after FEMA failed to deliver help to thousands of people stranded on rooftops or in shelters. He resigned soon afterwards.
And when White House Counsel Harriet Miers was nominated to the Supreme Court, the President hailed her as the person "most qualified" for that lifetime appointment. But senators and special interest groups drew attention to her lack of experience with constitutional law, and the nomination was withdrawn.
Administration critics are drawing parallels with recent appointees, saying they lack the experience needed to do their jobs.
Paul Bonicelli has been appointed to oversee the democracy and governance programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S.AID). Those programs are mandated to play a central role in Mr. Bush's efforts to democratize Iraq and the broader Middle East.
Bonicelli is dean of academic affairs at Patrick Henry College (PHC) in Purcellville, Va., whose motto is: "For Christ and Liberation." This ultra-fundamentalist institution requires its students and faculty to sign a "statement of faith" declaring that they believe "Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, is God come in the flesh", "Jesus Christ literally rose bodily from the dead," and "all who die outside of Christ shall be confined in conscious torment for eternity."
Critics question how Muslims will react to the view that "all who die outside of Christ shall be confined in conscious torment for eternity."
Bonicelli and PHC have had close ties to the Bush Administration and to private right-wing religious groups who form such an important part of President Bush's base. PHC students have been chosen to serve as interns for Karl Rove and for the White House Office of Public Liaison, and students and faculty are frequently invited to White House and inaugural events. In 2002, Mr. Bush named Bonicelli along with former Vatican advisor John Klink and Janice Crouse of the ultra-conservative Concerned Women for America to a U.N. delegation to promote biblical values in U.S. foreign policy - and sparked an outcry of protest from women's rights advocates.
Ellen Sauerbrey was nominated to head the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, whose mission is to coordinate U.S. response to migration problems arising from war and natural disasters, and to work with international groups on population and reproductive-health issues. The Bureau has a budget of more than $700 million.
Sauerbrey ran the President's 2000 presidential campaign in Maryland, and twice ran for governor of that state. She also served as U.S. envoy on women's issues at the United Nations, where she advocated Bush-administration positions on abortion, abstinence, and reproductive health. Those policies have been widely criticized for frustrating family planning and failing to provide reproductive health services to refugee women.
Julie Myers, nominated to head U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security and the second largest Federal investigative agency after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). ICE's mission is to deal with all Customs and Immigration violations occurring within the U.S., including drug shipments over a U.S. border and the detention and deportation of all illegal aliens involved in removal proceedings. The agency runs the largest and most secretive prison system in the U.S. and accounts for close to 80 percent of all arrests made within the FBI's joint terrorism task force. It prosecutes more individuals than any other Federal agency.
Myers was a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, N.Y., for two years, and for the past four years held a variety of jobs at the White House and at other government departments. At the White House, she was a special assistant to the president for personnel issues. Earlier she served as chief of staff to Michael Chertoff when he led the Justice Department's criminal division before he became a Federal judge and later Secretary of Homeland Security, and worked with independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who led the Whitewater investigation during the Clinton Administration. She is the niece of now retired Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
ICE is an extensive bureaucracy with tens of thousands of employees and an annual budget of close to $15 billion. It has been widely criticized as one of the most dysfunctional. Myers has little experience in management or with immigration issues.
Matthew Issman, national legislative vice president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, characterized the Myers appointment most succinctly: She "just doesn't pass the smell test and is another indication that this administration created the Department of Homeland Security as window dressing and does not care whether ICE is successful", he said, adding, "What we need is a strong, law-enforcement leader, not another inexperienced, well-connected lawyer with friends in the White House."
AR Correspondent Bill Fisher is a former American diplomat whose blog, "The World According to Bill Fisher," covers a wide variety of American issues. Visit him at http://billfisher.blogspot.com/.