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In the Loop

All in the Family

By Al Kamen
Friday, March 25, 2005; Page A17

Most large agency meetings tend to be brutally dull dog-and-pony shows. The bosses drone on about how wonderful things are -- but how reorganization could vastly improve operations -- and about how much they truly appreciate the efforts of the staff, which they invariably hail as "dedicated," even though half of them are by now dozing.

But not so the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's annual employees' meeting a couple of weeks ago in a ballroom at the ritzy Mayflower Hotel on nearby Connecticut Avenue NW.

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The theme of this year's meeting -- improving customer service -- didn't augur well for an exciting show, but then Commissioner Stuart J. Ishimaru got up to say a few words.

Ishimaru, the lone Democrat on the five-member commission -- there's one vacancy -- ripped into some of the agency's recent initiatives, including the idea of the morning's annual meeting itself, which, even with just coffee, bagels and some sort of "baked good," was budgeted at $30,000, a hefty sum for the cash-strapped agency.

He also criticized outsourcing the public's phone inquiries to Lawrence, Kan., reorganization proposals that focused on the field offices but not on headquarters and so on. People in the 500-person audience cheered and clapped, we were told.

Chairwoman Cari M. Dominguez, said to have been tight-jawed and visibly upset during Ishimaru's remarks, rose to say she felt obliged to respond. Noting Ishimaru's criticism of the costs of the meeting, Dominguez said, according to sources, "we spend about $500,000 a year on his office staff," but she had yet to see a work product from them.

This criticism of those career staff drew hisses from the audience, we're told by our sources.

We tried to confirm the precise exchange between the commissioners. Since the session was sent live to the 51 EEOC field offices (some got audio only, some video only, some nothing, but hey, it was the first time they'd tried the technology), we called Leonora L. Guarraia, the agency's chief operating officer, to see if we could have a transcript or a video.

"I don't think so," she said. Asked why not, she said because it was a "private meeting." But there were 500 people there; how could that be private?

Agency spokesman Charles Robbins suggested we not get hung up on the word "private." It was not a regular EEOC business meeting, therefore open, Robbins said, but rather something in "the EEOC family."

That's an awfully big family, with 500 in Washington and maybe a couple of thousand more in the field offices.

Guarraia also disputed the $30,000 cost for the gathering. "It was considerably less," she said.

Well, how much less? She declined to say.

Must have been a private number?

Mail Hormones Out of Control

Imagine our surprise when, browsing recently through the excellent McCook Daily Gazette in McCook, Neb., we found a letter to the editor from New Hampshire Democratic activist Monica Smith.

Why, she wrote, would Nebraska's GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel send her a "prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense" bit of puffery? This is quite legal, we're told, though Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington complained that the newsletter improperly uses one too many pictures of Hagel and that they are unrelated to the text.

So is this a very, very early effort to build support in New Hampshire for his expected 2008 presidential bid?

No, no, no, his office insisted yesterday. A technician at the mailing company, InterAmerica Technologies, "mistakenly included a variable in the selection criteria" that sent the newsletter to an additional 539 people outside Nebraska, according to a letter to Hagel from the company. That group did not include many folks in New Hampshire, we're told.

The mistake "was in no way deliberate or malicious," the mailer said.

Premature, maybe?

Ex-Chairman Gets 2 Years

Okay, boys, get ready to move the couch back in. President Bush will renominate Ellen G. Engleman Conners to another two-year term as chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, the White House said yesterday. Her term as chairman expired Monday, and she'd moved out of the chairman's fine suite.

Bush said he would nominate Mark V. Rosenker, now acting chairman, to a five-year term and designate him acting chairman, putting him in charge until the Senate can confirm Engleman Conners.

Bush Throws McCormack at Rice

It's official. Sean Ian McCormack, spokesman for the National Security Council and a career foreign service officer who has worked in Algeria and Turkey, is to be nominated as assistant secretary of state for public affairs, the White House announced yesterday.

Moving on . . . David G. Leitch, a former Supreme Court clerk, chief counsel for the Federal Aviation Administration and more recently White House deputy counsel, has been named general counsel of the Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Mich. He is the second White House senior aide to sign up with Ford in the past year or so. Ziad S. Ojakli joined Ford in February 2004.

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