GOP senators urge appointment of reconstruction czar

More than two dozen senators call on president to appoint single official to oversee federal spending on recovery efforts.

More than two dozen Republican senators Wednesday called on President Bush to name an independent manager to oversee the government's efforts to rebuild the Gulf Coast region in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The senators, led by Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said the manager would oversee every project and program to rebuild the region.

"Before we spend millions upon millions of dollars, we must formulate a rebuilding plan," said Domenici. "By having a single representative of the federal government, it will be easier to work with local officials and keep track of all the money that will be spent." Congress has so far approved $62.3 billion in emergency funding for the on-going response, recovery and relief efforts.

Domenici said he spoke with White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card about the proposal, but that Card "didn't indicate a preference one way or the other."

When asked about the creation of such a position, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said he "would not expect" the president to include it in the initiatives he will address during his speech to the nation Thursday tonight.

On Wednesday, Domenici and Sessions introduced a resolution calling on the president to appoint a director and also sent a letter to Bush with signatures from Sens. Judd Gregg, R-N.H.; Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; James Inhofe, R-Okla.; and other GOP members.

No Democrats had signed the letter or resolution as of Wednesday, but Domenici said they would circulate the resolution to more offices this week.

"Clearly, the federal government does not have a person in place to coordinate the long-term rehabilitation efforts that will be associated with Katrina," wrote the senators, noting President Nixon appointed his Office of Management and Budget deputy director in 1972 to oversee rebuilding efforts in the wake of Tropical Storm Agnes.

Sessions added that the president "needs someone with extraordinary ability -- that he trusts -- to make sure that money is carefully spent." Domenici said the individual should also have the approval of state and local officials in the Gulf states and would not have authority to make policy decisions, but rather oversee and set up a management structure.

The senators believe the president has the authority to issue an executive order and appoint a director who would work with Congress while lawmakers and the Bush administration continue to draft mandates and approve emergency funding. "It is not necessary to have a mandated, statutorily appointed czar," said Sessions.

Democrats are calling for an independent board to spur economic growth and long-term prosperity in the Gulf region. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said the board should be modeled after the Tennessee Valley Authority, which Congress created after the Great Depression to help rebuild the economy.

Kennedy said federal financial aid would flow through the proposed board and should be led by an individual with "an eminent, nonpartisan person with demonstrated leadership and organizational skills." Congress should give the person Cabinet-level rank, he added. A perfect candidate, one Kennedy aide suggested, would be former Secretary of State Colin Powell.