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A Little Too Cozy

By Al Kamen
Monday, May 15, 2006

We were so looking forward to attending the Energy Department's Office of Environmental Management's "2nd annual EM Transportation Best Practices Workshop and Training" at the lovely Hotel Boulderado, in Boulder, Colo.

The first one, in Phoenix in 2005, was said to be a great time for the 150 local and state officials, Energy Department staff and hazardous materials transporters to talk about risks, trends and regulations.

A one-page flier on a special Web site this year invited companies to "secure a corporate sponsorship and realize profitable relationships with influential decision-makers at this exclusive industry event."

The gathering "offers your company the outstanding opportunity to enhance your visibility to the true decision-makers who drive the hazardous materials transportation industry." Yes, indeed, "your target audience can also become your captive audience," the Web site gushed, especially if you fork over $2,000 to pay for the welcome reception, or a continental breakfast, lunch or a coffee break.

It's unclear who came up with the bright idea to charge companies for a chance to cozy up to regulators -- and save lobbying fees by skipping the middleman.

But at some point top agency officials got wind of the plan. "Once departmental leadership learned about the implications contained in the flier, they canceled the conference," said spokesman Craig Stevens . The department's "door is always open to anyone free of charge."

The Web site disappeared. The fliers flew away. And anyone who had paid for the conference received a refund, we were told. It's unclear if the event will be rescheduled.

So Much for Traveling Light

One more reason, albeit minor, to hate al-Qaeda. Back in the old days, government officials could go on quiet vacations without a security detail. Now, no top official can leave home without one.

For example, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty is off with his wife on a two-week European vacation this summer touring -- we can't tell you where because he might have to cancel and it's a 25th anniversary thing.

The Justice Department sent word to an embassy in the undisclosed location asking for logistical support for 16 (that's sixteen) agents -- in this case, U.S. marshals -- and for help acquiring rental cars, cellphones and such.

The department says a preliminary request for 16 security folks doesn't mean that precisely that many will go on the trip, which includes a nice tour itinerary.

But sending any substantial detail, figuring flights, expenses and salaries, will cost the government probably about $100,000.

And it's not clear how much safer McNulty will be. If he just put on a pair of Bermuda shorts and carried a camera around his neck, he would blend right in. But wandering about in a motorcade with a bunch of big guys with earpieces dangling surely would draw some untoward attention.

Wait, That's My Parking Space

A recent e-mail notice at the Department of Homeland Security indicates some at headquarters think Undersecretary for Management Janet Hale has already checked out.

"Subject: RE: Parking Space #016 Ms. Janet Hale To all, Please pass the word to all employees who have inner compound parking to refrain from parking in space #016 (Ms. Janet Hale's parking space) located in front of the press conference building. On several occasions this week Ms. Hale's space has been unavailable to her in the morning.

"Ms. Hale will be with us until 5/19/06 and will be attending daily morning briefs with the front office. Thanks in advance for passing the word on to your staff."

Forgotten but not gone?

Bun in the Oven at Homeland Security

Speaking of the Department of Homeland Security, a hearty Loop congratulations to Julie L. Myers , assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement since Jan. 6. Word at DHS is she's expecting. Congrats to hubby John F. Wood , chief of staff to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff .

Just an Implant Away

Seems Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has gotten into some hot water at home over his creative proposal that Washington use microchip implants to track Colombians temporarily working in this country.

Loop Fans may recall that Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), recounting his Latin America trip in April, mentioned Uribe's proposal when they chatted in Bogota. Specter, in trip notes he entered into the Congressional Record, said he told Uribe "he doubted whether" implants would work since workers "might be able to remove them."

The column item sparked some angry protests. Uribe refused to say whether he proposed the implants, but he told a television interviewer: "If the United States, with all its technology, computers and chips, doesn't have the means to know who enters or leaves the country, then where are we?"

That's what we're trying to figure out right now.

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