Friday, May 27, 2005

"Non-Partisan" Testimony Gets Edited By White House

When the Senate Democratic Policy Committee sought testimony from Derrick Max, the head of an organization advocating Social Security privatization, it expected him to support the Bush Administration.

But it didn't expect that his testimony would be edited by an administration official.

But according to a May 19 story in the Los Angeles Times, when Max e-mailed his testimony to the panel, he inadvertently included editing comments made by Andrew Biggs, an associate commissioner of the supposedly nonpartisan Social Security Administration.

The incident created a bit of foo-fah, with some Demcrats and others calling for an investigation. Not helping matters was that Max and the Bush administration didn't get their stories straight when discussing what changes were made to the testimony.

Max said the changes were "largely grammatical," but a White House spokesman told the Times that it had no problem reviewing Max's testimony for "accuracy."

Max is executive director of Alliance for Worker Retirement Security and the Coalition for the Modernization and Protection of America's Social Security, each of which describe themselves as nonpartisan.

But if the groups are independent, why did the White House get its fingerprints all over Max's testimony? And why is an official from the suppsedly nonpartisan Social Security Administration towing the administration's partisan line?

***

Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND) wrote Social Security commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart on May 18, to investigate the matter and to report whether any statutes were breached. He told the Times that the activities violated statutes requiring the Social Security Administration to be "nonpolitical and nonpartisan."

"We have long suspected what's happening here," Dorgan told the Times. "These groups advertise across the country, presenting themselves as independent and representative of many voices. This shows that there is one ventriloquist for these groups, and he has an office at the White House."

***

In 1994, via a bipartisan effort led by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), Congress passed legislation to establish a three-person, independent oversight board for the Social Security agency, removing it from the supervision of the Department of Health and Human Services, which operates as part of the politically minded White House.

***

The incident last week wasn't the first time the Bush administration has been charged with trying to turn the Social Security Administration into a partisan player in its efforts to promote the President's privatization plan.

Back in January, the New York Times reported that the Bush administration had pushed Social Security to undertake a "major effort to publicize the financial problems of Social Security and to convince the public that private accounts are needed as part of any solution."

That set off administration critics, including an executive with the American Federation of Government Employees, Dana C. Diggins, who told the Times: "Trust fund dollars should not be used to promote a political agenda."

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