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Columnist June 4, 2013

Don’t complain to Kathryn Sullivan about having to travel for work. As an astronaut, Sullivan completed three shuttle missions, and in 1984 she became the first American woman to walk in space.

These days, as the acting head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, she deals with more earth­-bound concerns. But science remains the former oceanographer’s bailiwick.

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

She talks to the Loop about her secret talent and how government could be more like Google.

What’s one thing movies get wrong about astronauts?

More things than I can count. That we’re daredevils.

Which Cabinet secretary would you most like to hang out with, and what would you do?

Secretary Jewell [Interior Secretary Sally Jewell], to tour our nation’s national parks and marine sanctuaries and to promote Recreation.gov.

What’s your favorite non-work-related Web site/blog/
app/magazine?

Alert Diver.

Fill in the blank: People would be surprised to know that I ______.

Paint like Dale Chihuly.

What’s your dream job?

Chief scientist.

What motivated you to go into public service?

To join a team that tackles great challenges and does work that shapes the future of our country.

Favorite TV show?

“Oceans” (BBC).

Which character from that show do you most identify with?

The hosts are all real scientists and explorers, so I identify with each of them.

What subject, other than your work, do you know the most about? Spaceflight.

What’s the best job you ever had?

Spacewalker.

Fill in the blank: I’m scared of _________.

Not having another dive trip on my calendar.

What’s one word you wish people would use to describe you?

Down-to-earth.

You can draft one person in the private sector to come work for the federal government. Who would it be, and what would you have them do?

Eric Schmidt. Bring Google’s innovation and workforce-management approaches to federal government.

Background Check is a Loop feature in which we grill various government types about their lives on and off the clock. Please send suggestions for future subjects to intheloop@
washpost.com.

One ethical sock puppet

“Richard Windsor,” the alias that Lisa Jackson used for non-public e-mails while leading the Environmental Protection Agency, has been much criticized by Republicans. But according to one conservative think tank, at least the fictional Windsor was a model employee.

Jackson, who left the agency earlier this year, used an e-mail account associated with that pseudonym to take online training programs on subjects including ethics, whistleblowers and records preservation, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has been critical of the agency. The CEI said Monday that it had obtained EPA records that covered certifications in 2010, 2011 and 2012 through a Freedom of Information Act request seeking evidence that Jackson was current on her training.

Republicans have pounced on Jackson’s use of the fake identity for her non-public e-mail account, saying that it might be part of an effort to skirt transparency and public records requirements. (As to the origin of the alias, Richard was the name of Jackson’s dog, and Windsor refers to East Windsor, N.J., where Jackson once lived.)

An EPA spokeswoman tells the Loop that it’s been standard practice for years for the head of the agency to use a separate
e-mail address for “internal business.”

“The business of the agency includes taking mandatory ethics and security training and as evidenced by EPA’s FOIA response, the former Administrator complied with all training requirements,” the spokeswoman said in a statement.

Turns out that the use of such e-mail accounts isn’t exclusive to Jackson, or to the EPA, as the Associated Press is reporting — in fact, top agency officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and top Labor Department folks, use them, too.

CEI senior fellow Christopher Horner said that use of an alias account for work activities was troubling.

“The best one can say is that if you’re going to use a false identity for federal recordkeeping purposes, the fake employee may as well be fully certified in the law and ethics of the matter,” he said in a statement.

Why not Minot?

In response to our colleagues’ coverage of those government conferences that keep landing agencies in hot water, a reader offers a modest proposal that sounds like one of those “common-sense solutions” that politicians are always going on about.

If all government conferences were required to be held in Fargo, N.D., suggested our sharp-witted reader, why, there’d be no more such scandals involving overspending on lavish confabs!

His arguments in favor of a Fargo-only policy were many-fold, including that it would be difficult for bureaucrats to get into too much hot water in such wholesome environs. Compared with other conference destinations, such as Las Vegas, Fargo offers lower prices and far fewer distractions.

A bonus: “Common sense is widely practiced in North Dakota and hopefully a little would rub off.”

Guess who thinks this is a marvelous idea. The North Dakota congressional delegation, natch. “We agree. Fargo would be the right place for anyone’s training conference,” Republican Sen. John Hoeven tells the Loop.

The state’s lone congressman, Republican Kevin Cramer (a former state tourism director) notes that there are opportunities for feds beyond just a visit. “While they are in town, perhaps some federal agencies would be willing to downsize — the spare employees could fill vacancies in our booming energy economy,” he suggested. “North Dakota has thousands of job openings if they can handle the work.”

Despite its mom-and-apple-pie offerings, perhaps the city should still adopt a new motto to seal the deal: What happens in Fargo stays in Fargo.

With Emily Heil

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

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