WASHINGTON – It is a time-tested Washington strategy for making a difficult policy question disappear: the dead by the “blue ribbon” of the commission.
Presidents, Congress and some agency set-up panels filled with subject matter experts to offer sage advice to policy makers. But these panels are sometimes used to slow-walk this thorny policy in oblivion.
President Donald Trump chose what one expert calls “the blue ribbon” option when he gets a sensitive gun control proposal to a new panel on school safety, part of a package, the White House announced Sunday in response to the shooting at a school in the Park, Florida. He put Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in the cost of the panel and left instructions that an important proposal that he has expressed support for raising the purchase age for a number of firearms was now in doubt.
“There is not a lot of support from the political (to say the least),” the president tweeted about the proposal, which is opposed by the National Rifle Administration.
For legislators and governors, the creation of a commission “stands for movement, it is something that they can report, especially if they are under some criticism that they take no action, or they are religious,” said Kenneth D. Kitts, a professor of political science at the University of North Alabama and the author of “Presidential Commissions and National Security: the Politics of Damage control.”
Trump has made it clear that he does not think much of such panels.
“Can’t We just keep the set up’ blue-ribbon ‘ panels with your wife and your wife and your husband and they meet and they have a meal and they talk. Talk, talk, talk,” the president groused to the discussion of the opioid crisis at a rally Saturday outside of Pittsburgh. “That is what I got in Washington. I have all these blue-ribbon committees. Everyone wants to be on a blue ribbon committee.”
Commissions throughout history have produced important historical information, policies, and even material for the criminal procedure. President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the Warren Commission to present a report of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. President George W. Bush, 9/11 Commission was set up to take account of the circumstances of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Others were less successful. In 2010, the report of President Barack Obama’s political reduction of the debt of the commission is not enough to win votes among its members to send to Congress for a vote.
In 2001, President George W. Bush made a 16-member bipartisan commission to study the feasibility of the “modernisation” of Social Security. The recommendations floundered in Congress.
Critics of the commissions say that they mainly made for reasons other than good public policy: They let legislators and officials to look like they’re doing something about controversial topics without to take a stand that might alienate some groups, such as the national regulatory authority, in the case of the Republicans in these mid-term elections. Their members are not elected or accountable to the public.
There is also no control of the quality, and they are expensive. The Congressional Research Service in November 2017 reported that the commission charges may vary from a few hundred thousand dollars to more than $10 million. And after all that, legislators can simply ignore a commission’s conclusion.
Trump has any experience as president with the danger of ‘blue-ribbon’ commissions.
His unsubstantiated statement that millions of illegal ballots cost him the popular vote in 2016 led to his executive order last May the creation of a commission “election integrity.” The panel’s work quickly devolved into bickering, with the states that refuse to allow their voices, and critics say that the commission was actually about suppressing votes.
In January, Trump terminated, the commission and its duties transferred to the Department of Homeland Security.
His commission on opioids produced limited results. In October, Trump declared opioid abuse a national public health emergency. He announced a campaign to combat what he said was the worst drug crisis in u.s. history, but it is not a new federal funding in the direction of the effort.
Trump’s statement stopped the emergency declaration that was sought by a federal commission the president created to study the problem. An interim report of the commission called for an emergency declaration, saying it would free additional money and resources.
But in his last report in November, the panel mentioned only for more drug courts, more training for doctors and penalties for insurers who dodge the cover of the addiction. It did not call for new money to address the epidemic.
“Do you think the drug dealers, the death of thousands of people during their life, do you think they care that a blue ribbon committee?” Trump railed on Saturday.
AP Researchers Monica Mathur in Washington and Randy Herschaft in New York contributed to this report.