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Conyers Calls for USAID Chief Shah’s Demotion

India West, News Report, Sunita Sohrabji Posted: Feb 15, 2010

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., has written to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for the demotion of Rajiv Shah, who heads up the U.S. Agency for International Development and is the highest-ranking Indian American in the Obama administration.

Conyers sent the letter to Clinton Feb. 4, following a briefing on Haiti by Shah with the Congressional Black Caucus. Shah has been serving as President Barack Obama’s point-man to the earthquake-stricken country.

The chair of the House Judiciary Committee — who has served in the House since 1964 and is the senior-most African American in Congress — criticized Shah for failing to bring any African Americans with him to the briefing.

In the letter to Clinton, Conyers said: “I was alarmed and chagrined to learn that none of the approximately dozen staff (Shah) brought with him were African American.”

“This is so serious an error in judgment that it warrants his immediate demotion to a subordinate position at AID,” wrote Conyers.

“It is well known that there has long been an under-representation of minorities in key positions within the State Department. I am confident that the Administration will immediately begin addressing this problem,” he said.

Shah took over as USAID Administrator from Alonzo Fulgham, who is African American, and currently serves as the agency’s chief operating officer.

A spokeswoman for the State Department told India-West that Clinton had seen the letter, but had not commented on it.

"Following the letter, Dr. Shah had a good conversation with Representative Conyers and they are scheduled to meet this week,” a USAID spokesperson told India-West, while declining to comment on the number of minority staffers at the agency.

Jonathan Godfrey, communications director for the House Judiciary Committee, told India-West he could not confirm the meeting between Conyers and Shah. Citing the blizzard conditions that have stymied activity in Washington, D.C. over the past week, Godfrey said he was unable to get a comment from Conyers on his letter.

In January 2009, Conyers sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to members of the Senate opposing the possible nomination of CNN’s Sanjay Gupta to the post of surgeon general.

“There are highly experienced medical professionals who question whether Dr. Gupta has the necessary experience.”

“Clearly, it is not in the best interests of the nation to have someone like this who lacks the requisite experience needed to oversee the federal agency that provides crucial health care assistance to some of the poorest and most underserved communities in America,” said Conyers in his letter.

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