White House Nominations to Oversight Panels Lag

10.20.11 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

“I would be remiss if I did not express my concern over this Administration’s inexplicable failure to fully appoint and staff the privacy oversight board that we created as part of our 2004 act [on intelligence reform],” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) at a hearing last week.

She was referring to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) that was established by Congress to independently oversee the conduct of information sharing within government and to ensure the protection of privacy and civil liberties interests.

“I am truly baffled by the Administration’s slowness in this regard because it is an important check as we seek to expand information sharing,” Sen. Collins said on October 12.

A coalition of public interest groups recently asked the President to complete the process of nominating members to the PCLOB.  “We urge the administration not to delay any further in nominating individuals for the remaining three slots on the Board, so that we may proceed to Senate confirmation and finally allow the PCLOB to begin its important work,” they wrote in an August 25 letter to the President.  (Two nominees to the Board, James X. Dempsey and Elisebeth Collins Cook, were named by President Obama in December 2010.)

Background on development of the Board was provided by the Congressional Research Service in “Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board: New Independent Agency Status.”

The White House has also lagged in appointing five new members to the nine-member Public Interest Declassification Board, as the terms of its previous nominees have expired.  The four remaining PIDB members listed on the PIDB website are congressional appointees.

The PIDB was directed by the White House in 2009 to help “design a more fundamental transformation of the security classification system.”  But the PIDB has not yet reported its recommendations, and the loss of its White House-appointed members will tend to complicate the completion of that task.

“It is not an easy or fast process to find those with the appropriate background willing to serve (to include securing a clearance, etc.),” said one official, who added that “vacancies have been a challenge for the PIDB from the start.  I am not sure it has ever been without a vacancy.  While this is not without consequence, the Board has nonetheless remained balanced and effective.”