Congress resurrects commission on weapons of mass destruction Concerns over makeup of panel nearly doomed it


WASHINGTON -- In a last-minute compromise, Congress has revived the independent commission charged with streamlining the efforts of 96 federal agencies that deal with the threat of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as the means to deliver them.

The panel was left for dead three months ago, largely at the hands of House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a top foreign policy lieutenant, Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, a New York Republican. The lawmakers objected to the scope and makeup of the panel, headed by John Deutch, former director of the CIA, and let its legislative mandate lapse.

But the panel's vice chairman, Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, resurrected it as part of the $500 billion spending bill that Congress approved last week.

Prominent Republicans like Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President George Bush, criticized Gingrich, saying he was playing politics with a serious issue that cut across party lines.

"The commission is back in operation," Specter said. "There's no more important item on the federal agenda than weapons of mass destruction, and right now we're not addressing it."

Gingrich and Gilman extracted concessions from Specter and the Clinton administration, however. Under the accord, four new members picked by the speaker and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi will join the panel, evening the number of appointees from each party at six apiece.

In addition, Gilman objected to the presence of the president's special envoy on proliferation issues, Robert Gallucci, on the panel, saying that was a conflict of interest. Gallucci, dean of the Georgetown University Foreign Service School, agreed to leave, Senate aides said.

Congress set up the panel, the Commission to Assess the Organization of the Federal Government to Combat the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, in October 1996. Its mandate was to untangle the overlapping jurisdictions that try to fight the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the means to deliver them.

But the commission had growing pains. It took President Clinton 14 months to name his four choices to the panel.

Pub Date: 11/01/98

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