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In the Loop

Smithsonian, OMB -- Plagued by Reds

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, February 9, 2005; Page A21

Some federal agencies should not be blamed for thinking that the Office of Management and Budget is to managing and budgeting much the way William "The Refrigerator" Perry is to dieting.

OMB, charged with ensuring taxpayers get the most bang for their hard-earned bucks, routinely ranks other agencies' performance according to five criteria. Those judged performing best, according to this week's budget announcement, were the departments of Energy, Labor, and State, and the Social Security Administration. Each got four green (good) circles and one yellow (okay).

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And what agency was among the worst? OMB, as judged by OMB. It got four red (deficient) marks and one yellow. Only the hapless Smithsonian Institution got a solid five reds, while even the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the legendary Army Corps of Engineers equaled OMB's score.

(The five criteria, roughly translated into English, are: personnel management, efficiency, accounting controls, information technology and program results.)

"We are not satisfied," an OMB spokesman said yesterday. "We hold ourselves to the same standard that we would any agency. We think this is an area where we can improve."

House Could Shred Bush Invitation

Not so fast, Abu Mazen. Sure, President Bush has just invited you to come visit. And, yes, as duly elected Palestinian leader you did The Handshake yesterday with Ariel Sharon in Sharm el-Sheikh.

But the House is set to take up today a bill sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) that apparently would prevent Mazen from entering the country.

The bill, Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) warned in a letter to colleagues last night, says, "An alien who is an officer, official, representative, or spokesman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization is considered, for the purposes of this Act, to be engaged in a terrorist activity."

"According to the bill," Capps said, "such an alien would be, by definition, inadmissible to the United States."

So don't rush finishing that plate of hummus.

Leavitt to Beaver?

In a very un-Washington, get-acquainted session at Department of Health and Human Services headquarters last week, new HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt turned the tables on the health care press corps, asking them to tell him a bit about themselves. Things like where they grew up; whether they had siblings, kids; how they got into journalism and such.

Then he shared some of his background, saying that he grew up in a town of 6,000 in southern Utah. "Combine 'Leave It to Beaver' and 'Bonanza' and you have a pretty good picture of what my life was about," he said.

The Unmentionable

The State Department was upset yesterday that Cuba and Zimbabwe were on a panel to develop the agenda for the U.N. Human Rights Commission meeting. "The United States believes that countries that routinely and systematically violate the rights of their citizens should not be selected to review the human rights performance of other countries," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

The other members of the panel are Hungary, the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia? No problem?

Outpost in Ottawa

The National Post in Canada yesterday listed prominent U.S. neighbors as likeliest successors to outgoing Ambassador Paul Cellucci in Ottawa. Marc F. Racicot, former Montana governor, and more recently chair of the 2004 Bush campaign, was in the mix, as was former House member George R. Nethercutt (R-Wash.), who lost his bid for the Senate in November.

Another top candidate was said to be former Michigan senator and more recently secretary of energy Spencer Abraham. Abraham, often asked to visit America's largest supplier of energy, generally demurred, preferring important conferences in Europe and Walt Disney World. But, when he finally made it up there, we're told, he found the ambassadorial digs exquisitely comfy.

Go Directly to Yale

Incoming from the bench? A federal judge ruled last week that the government cannot cut federal aid to Yale Law School for barring military recruiters from campus. Yale had done so to protest the armed forces' policy barring anyone openly gay from serving.

Yale's action did not sit well with U.S. District Judge William M. Acker of Birmingham, a Yale law grad himself. "Please let your students and faculty know that I will not consider any" Yalies for clerkships, Acker wrote Dean Harold Hongju Koh, unless Yale changes its mind or an appeals court overrules.

Bush Names Two Deputies

Barring the sudden installation of a successor, outgoing NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe intends to stay into next week. But no matter what, he plans to be in Baton Rouge on Feb. 21 to take over as president of Louisiana State University. Plan is for deputy Frederick D. Gregory to be interim administrator until the White House can settle on a permanent replacement.

Meanwhile, Bush said he will nominate Assistant Secretary of Interior for Policy, Management and Budget Lynn Scarlett to be deputy secretary and Jeffrey Clay Sell, of the White House office of legislative affairs, to be deputy energy secretary.

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