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The Cabinet Member Who Boycotts a Subcommittee

January 31, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Housing Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr. has been asked to testify before the House banking committee or its housing subcommittee seven times in three years. His number of appearances since March 1985: zero.

In addition, the only original member of President Reagan’s Cabinet still in the same post declined three invitations last year to appear before the Senate housing subcommittee of Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., and two requests by a special House panel on the homeless, chaired by Rep. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.

″He’s been to Russia on housing business more times than he’s been before Congress,″ said Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez, D-Texas, chairman of the House Banking subcommitee on housing and community development, when Pierce failed to show up last week for his panel’s latest hearing on fair housing.

A spokesman for Pierce’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, Bob Nipp, said the secretary had visited the Soviet Union four times since he took office in 1981, all at the request of President Reagan. He said Pierce had testified before congressional committees 11 times in the last three years.

Gonzalez threatened in a letter to subpoena Pierce if he continues to refuse to testify before his subcommittee.

Nipp said Pierce was not willing to comment on the Gonzalez charges or on the threat of the subpoena. Nipp said Friday the agency had not received the letter Gonzalez said was sent to Pierce.

The spokesman said invitations to Pierce to appear before the subcommittee always asked for either the secretary or his representative. He said a representative was dispatched.

Gonzalez claims that representatives of the secretary are no help to the committee because they do not make policy.

″They tell us, ’I can’t answer that because that decision is up to the secretary,‴ he said.

Most of Pierce’s committee appearances were before House and Senate appropriations committees for funds for the agency, Nipp acknowledged, although he said the secretary testified before the Senate Judiciary constitutional subcommittee last March and House Judicial civil and constitutional rights subcommittee last April on fair housing.

By contrast, John Butler, a staffer on the House Education and Labor Committee, said former Labor Secretary Bill Brock and Education Secretary William Bennett have testified before the panel whenever requested by Chairman Augustus F. Hawkins, D-Calif.

″I remember only once when Bennett couldn’t make it because he was out of the country and he sent a top deputy,″ said Butler.

He said Bennett had been invited six times in the last three years and appeared five times. ″The chairman and Bennett have different philosophies, but they get along when it comes to testifying before the committee. There are times when a secretary is invited but can’t make it, so an alternate date is set.″

Brock, he said, testified ″at least three times. The chairman and Brock talked informally more often because they knew each other when Brock was in the House.″

Jim Davis, spokesman for Agriculture Committee, said the panel has never had a problem with the appearance of a secretary, citing Richard E. Lyng, John Block and Bob Berglund, who have run the Agriculture Department in the last decade.

″In recent history, the secretary, when asked to come, has not failed to come, if he were available,″ Davis said. ″If he couldn’t make it, his highest ranking deputy came for him.″

Pierce’s last appearance before the Gonzalez subcommittee was on March 13, 1985, according to Gerry R. McMurray, staff director.

Since then, McMurray said, Pierce was sent seven letters requesting an appearance by either Gonzalez or Rep. Fernand J. St Germain, D-R.I., chairman of the full House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee: on Feb. 17, 1986, March 6, 1986, April 21, 1986, May 28, 1986 and July 26, 1986. He also was sent letters Jan. 4 and Jan. 12 of this year, in addition to the letter threatening a subpoena.

Substituting for Pierce at different times, according to House records, were former general counsel John Knapp; James Stimpson, deputy assistant secretary for policy development; R. Hunter Cushing, deputy assistant secretary for multifamily housing; Stephen May, assistant secretary for the officie of legislative affairs, and Silvio J. DeBartolomeis, general deputy assistant secretary for housing-federal housing commissioner.

Cranston’s housing subcommittee invited Pierce to testify during the first three months of 1987 and Schumer’s panel wanted him last December and earlier this month in New York, but he sent Stimpson instead.

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