The Los Angeles Times has an editorial about the five vacant seats on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. Privacy Lives has joined in the call to nominate experts to the the board. Terms for the original board expired in January 2008, but President Bush delayed the nomination of new board members for many months; none were confirmed by the Senate. President Obama has not nominated any members. As a result, the board (strengthened by a law a few years after the board’s 2004 creation) has never begun operations. In October, Maine Sen. Susan Collins (Republican) and California Rep. Jane Harman (Democrat) wrote to President Obama urging him (pdf) to make nominations for the board. Harman also has joined Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson (Democrat), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, in urging President Obama to fill the vacant seats on the board.
The Los Angeles Times says:
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) is pressing the Obama administration to fill the vacancies. In doing so, the president should choose individuals of sufficient experience and stature to act as watchdogs over the intelligence community and the Justice Department.
The board was originally established by Congress in 2004 and was raised to the status of an independent agency within the executive branch in 2007. Its mandate is to advise the administration when anti-terrorism policies threaten to trample civil liberties, and it has access to both public and classified information. It’s meant to complement, not replace, congressional oversight and investigations by the inspectors general of the Justice Department and the CIA. It also makes an annual report to Congress — or would, if it were reconstituted with new appointments. […]
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is designed to help protect against abuses in advance so that we don’t have to conduct inquests after the fact. […]
Stung by criticism of its inaction, the administration insists that it is considering candidates for the three Democratic seats on the board and expects congressional Republicans to recommend nominees for the other two seats soon. Better late than never, but the empty seats at the table more than a year into the Obama administration are an embarrassment.
In October, the Washington Post published an op-ed by Alan Charles Raul, formerly vice chairman of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, who said,”the president should nominate forthwith a distinguished, bipartisan slate of members to reinvigorate the board. […] The lapse of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has been unacceptable. Its work remains vital regardless of what administration is in power.” For more information, here’s a 2008 Congressional Research Service report (pdf) on the board’s history and powers.