Al Kamen
Al Kamen
In the Loop

Bye-bye, boondoggles?

Congress had a wonderful, bipartisan time at a hearing of the House oversight committee Thursday bashing the Internal Revenue Service over spending about $49 million on conferences from 2010 to 2012 — looking especially at that “Star Trek” parody video at a $4 million conference in 2010 in Anaheim, Calif.

And who can forget the mother of all conferences, the General Services Administration’s $820,000, four-day, training junket at a luxury hotel in Las Vegas in October 2010, featuring entertainment by a $3,200 mind reader, after-hours parties in 2,400-square-foot loft suites and a $7,000 sushi reception. Six planning trips cost about $130,000.

Al Kamen

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. He began his reporting career at the Rocky Mountain News and joined The Post in 1980. He has covered local and federal courts, the Supreme Court and the State Department. Follow him on Twitter.

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(SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES) - With the announcement Wednesday that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, center, would replace Tom Donilon as national security adviser, and that Samantha Power, left, would replace Rice as ambassador, women have again achieved parity on Obama’s team of top national security advisers

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The ensuing uproar cost GSA Administrator Martha Johnson and other top officials their jobs last year. Congress was outraged, the administration chagrined, and the media in hog heaven. Such great theater.

Alas, we may have seen the last of the glory days.

Loop Fans have doubtless found, back on Pages 238 and 239 of their copies of the 240-page Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2013, a provision that requires all agencies, boards, commissions and so on “submit annual reports to their inspector general (or senior ethics officer)” for the “costs and contracting procedures related to each conference” costing more than $100,000. (The Office of Management and Budget’s new guidelines also require deputy agency heads to approve such gatherings.)

It gets worse. The reports also must specify the conference’s purpose; say how many (but not who?) attended; and give detailed costs on food and drink, audiovisual services, and travel to and from, as well as procedures for awarding contracts, selecting hotels and so on.

Worse yet, 15 days after any conference costing more than $20,000, agency heads must notify the IGs or ethics officials of the date, location and number of employees attending.

All this may well have a decidedly chilling effect on such lavish and/or meaningless conferences.

Next thing you know, there’ll be similar legislation affecting congressional travel — including the cost of military jets and the number of hours spent by military and embassy employees on the care, feeding and transporting of members, spouses and staff members.

Well, maybe not.

Not exactly a leak

The Justice Department on Thursday declassified one of the worst-kept secrets in Washington.

Our colleague Ann Marimow reports that in a two-sentence notice filed in U.S. District Court, federal prosecutors stripped the classified label off the name of the national news organization (Gasp! It was Fox News!) and the reporter (OMG, James Rosen!) at the center of a leak investigation into former State Department arms expert Stephen Jin-Woo Kim.

The declassification notice came just days after Kim’s attorney had criticized government lawyers for labeling too many documents in the case as classified, including communications between Kim and his child.

Keeping those names hush-hush might have seemed superfluous, since news reports (including The Post’s) have widely identified both. Lawyer Abbe Lowell told the court Tuesday that Kim and his attorneys were “the only four people in the universe” prohibited from naming Rosen and Fox.

Kim is fighting charges that he leaked classified information about North Korea to Rosen, Fox’s chief Washington correspondent. The case attracted attention after it was revealed last month that the Justice Department had aggressively investigated Rosen’s news-gathering activities and labeled him as a possible co-conspirator in the case.

The department has said it never intended to prosecute Rosen. But the characterization in a search-warrant affidavit prompted an uproar from First Amendment watchdogs and government-transparency advocates already upset by the department’s decision to secretly seize phone records of Associated Press journalists in a separate leak probe.

And even though Fox and Rosen’s names are no longer a secret, there’s still plenty more information that’s being kept under wraps: Kim’s attorneys and federal prosecutors are fighting over thousands of pages of classified documents, and the case is unlikely to go to trial before early 2014.

Balancing act

What a difference a day — and one nominee — makes. President Obama has come up with a fairly gender-balanced national security team. (Perhaps they can field that coed softball team down on the Mall now?)

With the announcement Wednesday that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice would replace Tom Donilon as national security adviser, and that Samantha Power would replace Rice as ambassador, women have again achieved parity on Obama’s team of top national security advisers, something that seemed a fading prospect as many of Obama’s early picks were men and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left the job in February.

We count the elite group as Rice, Power, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and CIA Director John Brennan — though others could define the group more broadly. Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco, while not a Cabinet member, is at the table, and Attorney General Eric Holder also provides counsel.

Overall, the men still outrank the women, so actual parity remains elusive for now.

With Emily Heil

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

 
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