House Minority Whip Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) charged yesterday that Action Director Sam Brown is "seeking to transform Action into a tax-supported sanctuary for radical activists hired at outrageously high salaries."
The conservative Michel made the charge in a news release after Brown appeared before the Labor-HEW Appropriations subcommittee, of which Michel is the ranking minority member.
"Action press releases report that new regional directors of Action, appointed by Brown, "have an understanding of what activists can do to bring about social changes.'
"These are code words for political confrontation, disruption, threats of citywide tie-ups and deliberate ignoring of elected local officials typical of radical demonstrations of the recent past," Michel said in the release.
An aide said Michel's attention had been called to the agency by other Republican House members and staff complaining about the direction Action was going.
During the hearing, Michel asked Brown if he had hired one of the Chicago Seven defendants as a consultant. Brown said he had hired Lee Weiner, one of the Chicago Seven defendants, as a consultant for "developing community-based programs, policy and planning." A spokesman for Action said Weiner was being paid $130 a day, about the level of a GS-14.
In a statement issued later in the day, Brown said, "Rep. Michel's statement reflects his disposition prior to the morning's hearings and does not reflect 2 1/2 hours of discussion where each charge was answered in detail. As one of the people who was active in the so-called confrontation politics in the '60s, I am well aware of the shortcomings of those politics.
"The testimony and discussion this morning will indicate Vista and other programs in Action are proceeding in a prudent and thoughtful fashion designed not to create confrontation but to build coalitions to help people gain control over their lives. I have no intention of commenting further on Rep. Michel's charges."
Brown told Michel during the hearing that his intention in talking about activists bringing about social change waS to redirect the Vista program, a Domestic Peace Corps, away from filling jobs public employes could do and instead "causing things to change. We should not work in a day-care center, but organize a day-care center that will be there when we are gone," Brown said.
He said Vista volunteers during the past had been used in such jobs as librarians and that he did not feel that was the purpose of Vista.
Under questioning by Michel, Brown admitted that he had concurred in an order that no training session for Vista volunteers be set up in states the had not ratified the equal rights amendment.
He also admitted that he had asked the Office of Management and Budget to eliminate the legislative prohibition against volunteers participating in voter registration drives.
During the hearing Michel said Brown's practices seemd to be moving Vista away from a "close working relationship with local governments and into a confrontation with local governments."
Brown said the purpose of giving grants to small grassroots organizations rather than public agencies was to allow lower-income people to participate in their own decisions rather than sending in people to make decisions for them.
Brown is seeking a $12 million increase for Vista. Action is an agency which directs government-sponsored volunteer programs, such as the Peace Corps, Vista and an older Americans program.