Sunday, December 18, 2011

USCIRF Reauthorized For 3 Years, But 5 Current Commissioners Are Pushed Out

Congress on Friday gave final passage to HR 2867, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Reform and Reauthorization Act of 2011, reauthorizing USCIRF until September 30, 2014. Passage came as the Commission was preliminarily preparing to close down. Reauthorization had been stalled in the Senate because of a hold placed on the legislation by Illinois Senator Richard Durbin over an unrelated issue. (See prior posting.) Durbin insisted on amendments to the original House bill in order to lift his hold. After the Senate passed those on Tuesday, the House went along with them Friday. Two articles in World Magazine (12), report in greater depth on the bill's journey through Congress.  Some supporters of USCIRF say that Durbin's amendments will impede the agency's work. In particular, they point to a provision that limits commissioners to two terms.  The terms of present commissioners who have served that length of time now will end in 90 days.  This will eliminate 5 of the 9 current commissioners-- those who have the most experience. The bill also calls on the Comptroller General to submit a wide-ranging evaluation of USCIRF within one year, including an examination of the relationship between the agency and the State Department's Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.

UPDATE: Chairman Leonard Leo will apparently not be subject to the 90 day end of term requirements because, while he has been reappointed for a third time, his first appointment was not for a full term. This posting originally reported that, but briefly reflected the view that 6 members were affected when that was widely reported elsewhere.