Thursday, February 09, 2006

Expert on Congress's Power, Claims He Was Muzzled for Faulting Bush


WASHINGTON -- A dispute involving a researcher at the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service is fueling a debate over whether analysts throughout the government are being muzzled to prevent criticism of Bush administration policies.

Louis Fisher, a 36-year veteran of the agency and an expert on the separation of powers, said his superiors wrongly punished him for giving interviews and publishing scholarly articles under his own name that contained criticism of the White House. Top officials deny those allegations, saying they were simply trying to protect the agency's reputation for nonpartisanship and objectivity.

The dispute has thrust the research service, a branch of the Library of Congress, into a debate about whether the Bush administration is trying to control the flow of information to lawmakers and the public. Earlier in the week, a political appointee resigned from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration after coming under fire for limiting access to an expert on global warming. The White House also faces accusations that it misled lawmakers about the true cost of the new Medicare drug benefit.

The standoff between Mr. Fisher and the research service's top leaders comes at a tense time for the agency. Its staffers have been complaining for months about a plan to cut 59 employees, many of them women and minorities, because of budgetary cutbacks. As of last fall, the research service had a total staff of 710, according to its own figures.

A spate of investigations by the service into hot-button issues, like the administration's domestic spying program, have raised its visibility and led to renewed scrutiny of its work. Reports questioning the legality of the spying program drew rebukes from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra (R., Mich.), who said the agency was trying to evaluate a "highly sensitive intelligence issue on which it had no firsthand knowledge."

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