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It's all in the preparation. For example, Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao recently visited a plastics lab at Penn State University with Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) to hand out about $750,000 as part of a grant to retrain plastics industry employees.

She spent about 20 minutes touring the lab, meeting students and faculty and picking up a plastic Nittany Lion mask made while she watched.

"She would later describe her tour as exciting," Erie Times-News reporter Jim Martin reported. "What her tour wasn't was impromptu or spur of the moment," he noted. She was "preceded . . . by an advance team that spent hours preparing for her visit. Her every move across the plastics lab was planned, right down to the pieces of tape on the floor that directed her where to stand."

Exactly. And that's why it went flawlessly.

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Exceptionally well-connected Marc F. Racicot -- former Montana governor and attorney general, Bush reelection chairman and former head of the Republican National Committee -- is to be the new head of the American Insurance Association, which represents 435 major property and casualty insurance companies.

We're told the job pays $1 million-plus (checking to make sure we never wrote anything bad about him).

Doors Close on Rome, London

Still looking for a cushy ambassadorship? Move quickly. The big ones are finally going. President Bush last week named major contributors Ronald P. Spogli to be ambassador to Italy and Robert Holmes Tuttle to fill the long-vacant ambassadorial post in London.

Closer to home, Henry Crumpton , former head of the counterterrorism center at the CIA and before that a top anti-terrorism official at the FBI, is the pick to be the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism.

Benjamin A. Powell , now in the White House counsel's office, has been tapped to be general counsel in the office of the director of national intelligence.

A major job looks to be opening up at the Department of Justice. R. Alexander Acosta is said to be leaving as head of the Civil Rights Division to serve as interim U.S. attorney for the southern district of Florida, the Miami Herald reported last week.

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