Obama agency parties go lite this year

Al Kamen
Columnist November 22, 2011

Agency holiday parties appear to be slimming down this season. Indeed, one of the primo bashes, the one thrown by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. , has been canceled, we were told, to save money in these tough budget times.

For many years, the Justice Department drew hundreds of officials, including top agency heads, some Supreme Court justices and other usually reclusive folks, who enjoyed fine hors d’oeuvres — we’re not talking munchies here — along with excellent drinks and chatter.

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

Other agencies that hosted large parties apparently are also cutting back. Pentagon chief Leon Panetta , we’re told, “very cognizant of the economic circumstances” — not to mention huge cuts coming down the road — is going smaller this year, leading one wag there to say, “I’ll be bringing my own spring rolls.” Other agencies, such as the FBI, have canceled their parties.

Treasury has not had a big secretary’s party in recent years, and senior staff there will be chipping in to dine on cookies and punch.

But grumpy reporters need not worry. The Interior Department secretary’s party is still on. And there’s always the Justice Department inspector general’s party, on Dec. 15. This is a low-budget lunchtime affair with employees anteing up to defray costs. Still, they might have some of those famous — if nonexistent — $16 muffins to pass around. (You must RSVP by Nov. 23.)

Reptile revelry

Meanwhile, for those who want to party early and often, you can start Monday morning with the Concho Water Snake Farewell Party to celebrate the serpent’s removal from the endangered-species list.

You’ll have to go down to San Angelo, Tex., home of the Concho River in the west-central part of the state. The party, at the San Angelo Visitor Center, is hosted by Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.) and former congressman Charles Stenholm (D-Tex.) to thank everyone who worked on the 20-year effort.

Those were the days, Part 1

Thanksgiving always reminds us of the time during Richard Nixon’s administration when a particularly rambunctious turkey was presented to the late president at the White House. The turkey was so flustered that, according to the tale, not widely recalled these days, its feet had to be nailed to the table. (Apparently the bird doesn’t have nerve endings in portions of its foot.)

We checked our recollection with a few administration veterans. One of them, who definitely would have known,
e-mailed back: “Regarding the effort to restrain the White House Thanksgiving turkey, it is my understanding that at least one year, they nailed its feet to the table.”

We can only hope the turkey — like the president — was pardoned.

Those were the days, Part 2

Speaking of the Nixon administration, some of its veterans gathered last week at the Metropolitan Club in Washington for their yearly reunion lunch. We’re told the luminaries included Dick Cheney , Don Rumsfeld , Pat Buchanan , Bill Timmons , Fred Malek , Frank Carlucci , Ken Dam , Tom Korologos , Fred Fielding , Ken Khachigian and Ron Walker . (Walker chairs the Nixon Foundation.)

Henry Kissinger , we were told, has never attended. And John Dean was never invited.

Paul O’Neill , who became Treasury secretary in the Bush II administration, attended until 2002, when he hosted the lunch at Treasury and Cheney fired him the next day.

Domestic help

Chatter at the White House is that the two leading possibilities to replace domestic policy chief Melody Barnes , who’s leaving at the end of the year, are intergovernmental affairs director Cecilia Munoz and vice presidential chief of staff Bruce Reed .

Munoz, at the White House since the beginning, was a longtime civil rights activist and a former top official at the National Council of La Raza. She’s been a key liaison for the administration with Latinos, a critical voting bloc that’s been increasingly upset over Obama’s immigration policies.

Reed, who headed the Democratic Leadership Council, had the DPC portfolio in the Bill Clinton administration, back when Obama National Economic Council chief Gene Sperling was in charge of Clinton’s National Economic Council. If Reed gets the DPC job again, they’d be next-door neighbors in the northeast corner of the second floor of the West Wing. (Kind of deja vu all over again.)

A recent-history buff

Fire was crackling and the scent of Thanksgiving dinner permeated Vice President Biden’s house at the U.S. Naval Observatory on Monday.

While our colleague Greg Jaffe was inhaling secondhand turkey aroma, he and a handful of other reporters covering the Bidens’ meal for wounded troops were escorted into a living room in the residence, where the shelves were filled with books.

So what’s a naturally nosy reporter to do but take notes?

Jaffe provides this report on the state of Biden’s literary tastes, and he notes that the selection skews heavily toward searing critiques of the Bush administration and Biden’s predecessor, Cheney. To wit:

Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency”: Our former Washington Post colleague Bart Gellman’s book chronicles how the canny and often secretive former veep wielded the power of his office.

The $3 Trillion War”: Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda J. Bilmes document the staggering costs of the eight-year-long Iraq conflict.

The Dark Side”: New Yorker writer Jane Mayer argues that Cheney and David Addington, one of his closest advisers, used the heightened fear after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to enhance presidential powers and eviscerate constitutional protections.

Ethics is not a toy

In a shocking development, the Senate recently adopted a change to its rules that will allow senators to solicit gifts. Prepare to see members of Congress brazenly shaking down visitors for valuable goodies within the halls of the Capitol!

But the senators’ spoils won’t be paper bags full of cash or coveted skybox seats; think more along the lines of Legos, Elmo dolls and snuggly mittens.

The Senate altered its rules, but only to allow senators and other employees to accept “nonmonetary donations or clothing, toys, food and housewares . . . relating to serving persons in need or members of the Armed Services and the families of those members during the holiday season.”

In other words, they can put out boxes to collect toys and clothes for needy kids, and the change expires at the end of the congressional session.

So relax, ethics watchdogs, and take a sip of eggnog.

Moving on, moving up

“Farewell Langley, Hello Chicago!” our e-mail said. The exodus of Obama appointees to the 2012 campaign continues. Marie Harf, now working in the CIA press shop, is leaving Tuesday to head for the Windy City to be the campaign’s associate policy director for national security. Her departure e-mail even praised the beat reporters, calling them “extraordinary.” Well, she’s got a fine jump shot.

In other moves, Defense Secretary Panetta has tapped Rene Bardorf, former executive director of the Bob Woodruff Foundation, to be deputy assistant secretary of defense for community relations. Her portfolio includes working with military families, wounded warriors and veterans groups.

The Woodruff Foundation is named for the ABC newsman critically wounded in Iraq.

With Emily Heil

●The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
●Twitter: @intheloopwp

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