Blowing up Missile Defense Agency leadership

Al Kamen
Columnist August 7, 2012

President Obama has nominated Navy Rear Adm. James D. Syring for appointment to the rank of vice admiral and for assignment as director of the Missile Defense Agency, at Fort Belvoir.

The move, announced Monday by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, made no mention of the fate of Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, the current MDA director, who was sharply criticized in a May 2 inspector general’s report for having an abusive management style.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

We reported July 24 that Syring, the program executive officer for Integrated Warfare Systems, was under consideration for the job.

With the Senate in recess until early September, it was not immediately clear whether the White House might put Syring in the directorship on an acting basis.

The Pentagon inspector general found that O’Reilly, in the job since November 2008, had bullied and “yelled and screamed at subordinates in both public and private settings,” and had violated Pentagon ethics regulations.

“We recommend the Secretary of the Army consider appropriate corrective action with regard to Lt. Gen. O’Reilly,” the three-month-old report concluded.

A beeline for the exit

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton knows a thing or two about creating a buzz and getting stung by the media.

But those metaphors became a bit more real Monday when Clinton’s trip to Malawi reportedly ended with a hastened goodbye prompted by a swarm of bees.

Local media outlets reported “a mini panic at the international airport after bees thronged the area.” A witness told the Nyasa Times that people “scampered” in all directions to avoid the critters and that Clinton made haste to board the plane to avoid them.

But a State Department spokeswoman played down Clinton’s reported brush with the dangerous insects. “No panic or fleeing at all,” spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told Buzzfeed. Just “normal bees.”

And our colleague Anne Gearan, who was traveling in the motorcade behind Clinton, confirms that the tales of swarms of killer bees are highly exaggerated. Some bees were on the tarmac, but “no one was ever in any danger,” she assured us.

Still, just to be on the safe side, Clinton — who is on an 11-day tour of Africa and stopped in Malawi to meet with the country’s first female president — might want to rethink any bees-with-honey diplomacy.

From bad to worse

It seems that what happens in the Maryland suburbs doesn’t stay in the Maryland suburbs.

A Food and Drug Administration official’s arrest in Laurel on charges of soliciting a prostitute has one watchdog group questioning his work for the agency. Last month, William Maisel, deputy director at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, was arrested on four counts of soliciting a prostitute and one count of disorderly conduct. He’s facing a Sept. 20 trial.

That would be bad enough.

But now things are getting really ugly. The National Whistleblower Center, which was already unhappy with the FDA, is using the arrest to ask whether Maisel’s alleged crimes might have affected his work — particularly his involvement in a scandal in which FDA officials spied on agency scientists who had expressed concerns about the safety of medical devices.

Maisel, according to the whistleblower group, was responsible for the final decision to fire Ewa Czerska, one of the targets of a surveillance operation in which the agency monitored the computers and communications of scientists who were subsequently fired or left the agency. The scientists later sued.

In a letter to the FDA last week, the whistleblower group questioned the propriety of a person accused of such a crime snooping around the “intimate” details of another employee.

The group also raised a wide range of queries, including whether the FDA had conducted a background check on Maisel and whether it plans to investigate him and his work in light of the charges.

Maisel did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The FDA insists that the arrest is a private matter. And Maisel is still employed at the agency. “We consider this a personal matter that has nothing to do with the work he does at the agency,” FDA spokeswoman Erica Jefferson tells the Loop.

Location, location

The Senate on Tuesday will begin its “pro forma” sessions — in which a nearby Democratic senator comes in while the lawmakers are on vacation to gavel the Senate open for business and then gavel it closed a few seconds later.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the godfather of the pro-forma ploy, began the practice in 2007 to block President George W. Bush from making recess appointments.

But this time won’t have quite the same aura. Rather than sitting on the dais in the Senate chamber to do the honors, the presiders will sit on the dais of the decidedly less historic Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing room in the Hart Office Building while restoration work goes on in the Senate chamber.

This would not be a first, the Senate Historical Office tells us. The “earthquake session” last August saw the first official Senate session outside the Capitol since 1819, when reconstruction after a fire in 1814 was completed.

There have been actual — not pro-forma — sessions in other places in the Capitol, especially in the Old Senate Chamber during renovations, but that, too, is undergoing repairs.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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