ONCE AGAIN recess appointments to the Legal Services Corporation Board have been made. The beleaguered federally funded program to provide civil legal assistance to the poor has been repeatedly slated for elimination by the Reagan administration. Congress keeps it alive with reduced funding and some restrictions.
The 11-member LCS board has been limping along since 1981 without a full complement of Senate-approved members. Not a single nominee whose name has been submitted by President Reagan has been confirmed.
Both the Senate and the White House see advantages in this impasse. When the president's nominees are not confirmed during a congressional session, he can use his recess appointment power to put in place a board to his liking after Congress has gone home. Such a board -- the group named last week is an example -- takes office and continues to serve through the next congressional session, unless specifically rejected on a Senate vote. The tactic is particularly favored when there is some doubt that the nominees would win Senate approval, or when confirmation would take a long time.
But Congress is not without power to counter the administration's strategy, and it has done so by loading up appropriations bills with restrictions on the LSC board. One amendment prevents an unconfirmed board from defunding individual legal services programs. Another requires the board to submit proposed regulations to congressional committees 15 days before they are to go into effect. Friends of the program in Congress therefore have little incentive to take up these nominations, for even though the recess appointees are not to their liking, the board has a limited ability to subvert the program.
The 11 individuals who have just been given recess appointments were all nominated by the president last March. All nominations were reported by the Senate Education and Labor Committee -- 10 favorably and one on a tie vote without recommendation -- but the full Senate did not act. The administration insisted that all 11 nominations be considered together, but some senators refused to consent to a time agreement on the single controversial nominee. The whole question needs to be set straight. The president should send up his nominees in a regular fashion, and the Senate should vote on them. This should be done for the sake of the constitutional process, which really does not contemplate a succession of recess appointees filling important posts for years; for the sake of congressional procedures, which are bent when appropriations bills are used to legislate, and for the sake of a valuable program that deserves support and stability.