Last week President Bush took advantage of Congress’ holiday recess to appoint Ellen Sauerbrey as the Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). The Senate had stalled on approving her nomination because Ms. Sauerbrey has no experience. This State Department position administers the government’s policies regarding refugees and international migration issues and oversees approximately $700 million in federal funds for refugee protection, resettlement, and humanitarian assistance programs. Given the importance of this position, and the nominee’s total lack of experience, Mr. Bush abused his authority by circumventing the Senate.
Although the Bush administration insisted that Ms. Sauerbrey was well qualified for the position, her resume was appallingly slender. She twice ran as the Republican nominee for Maryland Governor, losing both times. She served as a representative in the Maryland legislature from 1978 to 1994. In 2000, she was the chairperson of the Maryland for Bush Campaign. Her only experience in federal government is having served as the U.S. representative on a United Nations committee on women’s issues.
A comparison of Ms. Sauerbrey’s experience with that of the three individuals who have most recently served as Assistant Secretary of State for PRM clearly demonstrates her lack of qualifications. Prior to his appointment to this position in 2002, Arthur E. Dewey served for five years as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Refugee Programs in the State Department. Before that, he was a United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, and he also served for four years as the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees.
Julia V. Taft held this position from 1997 to 2002. Prior to her appointment, she was the President and CEO of InterAction, a coalition of 156 U.S.-based voluntary organizations that works on refugee assistance and humanitarian relief throughout the world. Prior to this, she was Director of the U.S. Interagency Task Force for Indochina Refugees. Ms. Taft also served for three years as the Director of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance at the Agency for International Development, where she managed all U.S. relief responses to foreign disasters. It’s worth noting that although Ms. Taft was a prominent Republican, President Clinton nominated her because of her overwhelming qualifications.
From 1994 to 1997 Phyllis Elliott Oakley served as Assistant Secretary of State for PRM. She was a career State Department official, having served for 20 years. She had previously served as Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau for Refugee Programs, and as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. She was also second-in-command at the U.S. AID Afghanistan Cross-Border Humanitarian Assistance Program.
Why did Mr. Bush nominate Ellen Sauerbrey? In part, it’s because of the president’s misguided loyalty. But the main reason is that, not coincidentally, the Assistant Secretary of State for PRM is also responsible for overseeing international family planning policy. And Ms. Sauerbrey has been an outspoken conservative critic of abortion, sex education, and women’s rights.
She refused to accept, on behalf of the U.S., the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), a U.N. treaty that over 180 countries agreed to. The treaty asked countries to “condemn violence against women and refrain from invoking any custom, tradition, or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination.” She refused on the grounds that the treaty was “not pro-family.”
At an international women’s conference last year she was booed during a speech in which she said, “… we [the United States] do not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance.” She was also heckled when she stated, “We emphasize… the promotion of abstinence as the healthiest and most responsible choice for adolescents.”
In an open letter she wrote to United Families International, a right-wing organization “devoted to maintaining and strengthening the family” by opposing gay marriage and civil unions, she expressed ultra-conservative viewpoints. She lamented that the “prevailing vision at the U.N. is… that… family [is] whatever you want it to be -- sexual freedom -- anything goes.” While serving in the Maryland legislature she explained, “What I learned very clearly was that every social ill that we were dealing with stemmed from children who were the product of broken homes: drug addictions, school dropout, alcoholism, teenage suicide, teenage pregnancy.”
The president has the right, of course, to nominate any conservative of his choosing to any vacancy. But he should not nominate someone based purely on the fact that they are conservative. A nominee must be the most qualified person for the job at hand. As we saw with the FEMA debacle in New Orleans, the consequences can be devastating. After the deplorable performance of FEMA Director Michael Brown, nicknamed “Brownie” by President Bush, the nation learned that Brown had no experience in disaster management. Instead, he had spent the decade prior to his tenure at FEMA as a judge for Arabian horse competitions. By all appearances, Ms. Sauerbrey is another Brownie in the making.
Gene C. Gerard teaches American history at a small college in suburban Dallas, and is a contributing author to the forthcoming book Americana at War. His previous articles have appeared in Dissident Voice, Political Affairs Magazine, The Free Press, Intervention Magazine, The Modern Tribune, and The Palestine Chronicle. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
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