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Helms Fires GOP Staff on Foreign Relations Panel

January 8, 1992

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sen. Jesse Helms, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has fired nearly all of the panel’s top GOP staffers, committee officials said Tuesday.

The firings, carried out on Monday, were part of a restructuring designed to increase the staff’s effectiveness, said Bud Nance, a retired Navy admiral Helms brought in as staff director two months ago.

Others familiar with the purge said it came because Helms felt his minority staff was pursuing an independent agenda at cost of isolating him from the Bush administration and other Senate Republicans.

″I felt we had too much overhead and not enough operators,″ said Nance, whose ties to Helms go back to their school days in Monroe, N.C. ″It was difficult for me to see exactly who was doing what.″

Helms, who authorized Nance to make the staff changes, said Nance was ″absolutely right″ in his description of the committee staff problems.

″I just don’t believe that holding a job with the federal government ought to considered membership in a private club,″ Helms told the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record in a telephone interview.

″If you don’t do your job, you just ought to get out. I just hope the word goes out that we’re not going to have people who don’t do their jobs.″

Among the casualties was James Lucier, Nance’s predecessor as minority staff director and a legislative aide to Helms for 24 years. Lucier did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Others dismissed were Cliff Kiracofe, an expert on Europe; Bruce Rickerson, who handled State Department budget matters; and Tracy Usry, a specialist on POW-MIA issues. Five other aides and two consultants also were let go, committee officials said.

Knowledgeable Republican sources said the change was triggered by Helms’ realization that some of his aides had become too independent and were pursuing their own policy goals at the committee.

″There was little communication or effort to cooperate,″ said one senior Republican. ″They had gotten Helms isolated.″

GOP committee members had complained to Helms last spring that the staff did little to serve their needs for information and analysis. ″We were squabbling among ourselves more often than with the Democrats,″ said another source, like most speaking only on condition of anonymity.

Senators also were increasingly frustrated that the committee, once a plum assignment, is now seen by many critics as an irrelevant backwater, unable to complete action on key legislation and reduced to processing meaningless resolutions.

Congress in 1991 failed for the sixth straight year to enact a foreign aid authorization bill, relying instead on a stopgap funding bill to meet aid obligations to friends and allies around the world.

Another factor in the firings was conflict over the POW issue. Helms’ staff had issued a minority Foreign Relations Committee report last year without consulting other Republican senators.

The report raised questions about the fate of thousands of American POWs following World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam war. It contended there was a possibility some may have been taken to the Soviet Union and never returned. The Soviet Union and its successor governments have denied the allegation.

One, Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan., took exception with the report at a public hearing late last year. And committee aide Usry engaged in a verbal sparring match at the same hearing with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former Vietnam POW.

″Helms kept his distance and didn’t even go to that hearing,″ an aide said.

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