House committee questions future of Election Assistance Commission

At the Elections Subcommittee hearing Thursday on its operations and fiscal 2012 budget request, lawmakers targeted the commission’s funding, bureaucracy and current lack of a quorum.

More than $5 million of the commission’s nearly $14 million budget request is to be allocated to management activities. When questioned by Elections Subcommittee member Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), EAC member Gineen Bresso said she did not support such distribution of funds.

“I believe the budget spends too much money on bureaucratic infrastructure and not enough on agency activities and programs that assist state and local election officials and benefit voters,” said Bresso, who served as the House Administration Committee’s elections counsel for the Republican minority before her appointment to the EAC in 2008.

“I believe that the EAC needs to be a good steward of federal funds and spend taxpayer dollars in an efficient and effective manner, and I don’t believe this budget supports that goal,” she added.

Elections Subcommittee member Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) also addressed the commission’s leadership, questioning why — and if — an agency of 50 people needed 11 chief officers and directors.

“I don’t believe the agency does,” said Bresso, who pledged her commitment to work with the subcommittee to identify areas of potential consolidation and cost savings.

Though leadership top-heavy, the EAC currently lacks the required number of commissioners to form a quorum to do business. Three of the four commissioner positions are vacant or presently have an individual serving an expired term.

According to EAC Executive Director Thomas Wilkey, when the commission is fully reconstituted an implementation plan will be created for distributing funding and setting commission goals.

The commission’s days may be numbered, however, as House Administration Committee members Harper, Rokita and Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) in February submitted a resolution recommending its termination and transfer of commission operations to the Office of Management and Budget.

In his testimony, Wilkey defended the EAC’s continued operations, stating that the commission still performs vital services – including providing training and new equipment – to local election officials.

“I know that some members of this committee think that the EAC has outlived its usefulness; I respectfully disagree. In fact, in this challenging budget climate, local election officials have an even greater need for EAC’s resources and support,” he said.