The Trump administration just took a big step towards restoring a key government oversight watchdog. On Friday, the White House announced it will nominate Adam Klein, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, to serve as Chairman of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB).
PCLOB is an independent federal agency that’s supposed to make sure anti-terrorism programs don’t infringe on Americans’ civil liberties. It reviews executive branch activities and provides advice as the government devises new ways to protect the nation from terrorism. That’s an especially important job right now as Congress debates the future of government surveillance programs authorized under the FISA Amendments Act, which is up for reauthorization at the end of the year.
But PCLOB has been in a state of limbo for months, because it has just one member—former Bush-era Department of Justice official Elisabeth Collins. As POGO reported this summer, PCLOB can’t carry out many of its key duties, including starting new investigations and issuing reports, without a quorum of at least three members. The bi-partisan board lost its quorum in January this year and hasn’t had a chairman since the previous one resigned last summer. Without a chairman, the board also isn’t able to hire support staff.
To President Trump’s credit, he’s moving faster than President Obama did in filling the board. It took the last administration nearly two years to appoint new members. Now, it’s up to the Senate to carefully consider the nomination and ensure the board is led by someone who takes seriously its commitment to transparency and oversight.
But even if Klein’s nomination is approved, three vacant seats still need to be filled before the board is back to full strength. The good news is that the administration says it’s working on the problem: shortly after the POGO highlighted PCLOB’s plight in a story we co-published with Slate in June, a White House official told U.S. News & World Report that the administration is “actively reviewing candidates” for the board. Hopefully, that means Klein will be joined by more nominees soon.