A bipartisan group of senators is calling for the resignation of Howard Eugene Douglas, President Reagan's ambassador-at-large in charge of coordinating domestic and overseas refugee programs, saying Douglas "has been consumed with a mission to frustrate U.S. refugee policy."
In a letter to Reagan, three Republicans and five Democrats are asking him to relieve Douglas of his official duties "before his wrecking ball swings wildly again at the very programs you are admirably committed to maintain."
The June 12 letter was signed by Sens. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.), Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), John Glenn (D-Ohio), Gary Hart (D-Colo), Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) and John F. Kerry (D-Mass).
The refugee-coordinator position was created as part of the Refugee Act of 1980 at a time when the flow of Indochinese fleeing to this country and elsewhere was at its peak.
Under the law, the coordinator, who has the rank of ambassador-at-large, has a broad mandate to develop refugee policy. He is supposed to coordinate action by federal agencies that deal with refugees, including the departments of State, Justice and Health and Human Services.
Reagan appointed Douglas, a Texas Republican, to the job in 1982.
"Unfortunately, the individual in your administration responsible for the coordination and protection of the overseas and domestic refugee programs has been consumed with a mission to frustrate U.S. refugee policy," the two-page letter says.
Douglas did not return a reporter's telephone calls to his office late last week. An aide said yesterday that Douglas had not received a copy of the letter, but she added that Douglas had said "the reported call" for his resignation was based on a Reader's Digest article written by a consultant in his office.
The article by Jane Hamilton-Merritt in the June issue is highly critical of religious and lay organizations handling refugee resettlement in this country. The senators cited this as an example of how Douglas is undermining administration policy.
"Originating from within the very office that is charged with the supervision and defense of U.S. refugee programs, this article is indefensible and thoroughly shameful," the senators wote.
"The article is hers, and the conclusions are hers, not mine," Douglas said through his spokesman. "They do not represent U.S. government policy. Nonetheless, I stand by her right to express her own views no matter what embarrassment it causes me."
The senators also referred to a December 1984 trip to Thailand "where Douglas' discussions with senior Thai officials undermined Thai confidence as to the United States' resolve to protect or resettle Indochinese refugees."
The refugee question is a sensitive one, especially in Thailand, where many Indochinese refugees first go. Because the United States has traditionally taken the lead in resettling refugees, government and voluntary-agency officials have said Washington's actions have an enormous impact on other countries' agendas.
But officials familiar with the situation said Douglas did make recommendations, without appropriate authorization, for a moratorium or "extended hold" on processing all newly arriving refugees in Thailand. The proposals have not been effected, the officials said, but the unauthorized suggestion may be part of the reason why problems have arisen recently in Thailand over processing of Cambodian refugees to this country.
In another matter, the senators said they "cringed" when they read of Douglas' recent remarks, reported in a California newspaper, before an Indochinese refugee audience where he referred to voluntary-relief agencies as "round-eyed organizations."
Douglas was quoted as saying: "I am not arguing we don't want them refugees assimiliated. But our observation after 10 years in Indochina is that for the billions of dollars, too much has gone into the round-eyed organizations . . . and not getting down to the refugees."