ATF Strikes Bush's Words

After the headquarters building going up on New York Avenue (shown here in February) busted its budget, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives revised its opening quote.
After the headquarters building going up on New York Avenue (shown here in February) busted its budget, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives revised its opening quote. (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
By Al Kamen
Friday, August 18, 2006

In December, Carl J. Truscott , then director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and David L. Bibb , acting administrator of the General Services Administration, invited President Bush to the dedication of the ATF headquarters, scheduled for Nov. 14 or 16.

The new headquarters at 99 New York Ave. NE, ATF's first permanent home, is an "architectural masterpiece," the letter said, combining "high security and openness" with "post-Oklahoma City bombing design and construction standards."

But why would the president attend? Because "memorable words from your speech before a Joint Session of Congress on Sept. 20, 2001 will be engraved in stone at our entry threshold," the invite said. Whoa! This puts Dubya right up there with Lincoln and Roosevelt and Jefferson.

The letter said Bush's words -- "We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail" -- "remind us daily of the dedication and commitment with which we at ATF pursue our missions" of fighting terrorists and criminals.

But then Truscott left the agency, and deputy director Edgar A. Domenech , a career employee, became acting director. Although the idea of putting Bush's words on the entry originally came from the construction team and was approved up the ladder at ATF, GSA and apparently the White House, Domenech a week or so ago ordered that the project be dropped.

Was this politically related? Not at all, we were told yesterday. It was "strictly a cost-savings measure," ATF spokeswoman Sheree L. Mixell said. "The removal of the cornerstone engraving is one of many cost-cutting measures we have made," she said. "These decisions are made daily," she added, as officials try to trim costs by "reevaluating noncritical items."

Delays -- the opening has been delayed until next year -- have boosted costs for the estimated $140 million headquarters. Mixell said ATF and GSA officials have cut a number of items deemed not "mission-critical," such as exhibits, historic displays and informational kiosks. So the threshold will go up "without being engraved."

A source told us that earlier this year there was a big push to cut costs and that items such as a wall of huge monitors in the lobby and a library were eliminated, saving more than $1 million.

So how much would be saved by not engraving Bush's words on the threshold? Maybe about $5,000, the source said.

Endangered Species: Bilateral Quadruped

The State Department always stays on message, and the message is the Global War on Terror (G-WOT). So a department press release last week recounted in great detail the heartwarming story of how a beautiful, orphaned snow leopard cub, one of the world's most endangered species, was found by a goat herder in northern Pakistan and saved through the coordinated efforts of wildlife groups, and the U.S. and Pakistani governments.

And then: "The U.S. values Pakistan as a key ally on the War on Terror and is working with Pakistan to broaden and deepen its bilateral relationship. U.S. diplomacy has many facets and protecting endangered species is one of them." A truly seamless segue.

Terrorism, orphaned leopard cubs, all part of a fine super-cooperative relationship. So now will they get that U.S. textile quota lifted?

Precedents for Presidents

On Tuesday, reporters asked White House press secretary Tony Snow if Bush's failure to endorse Connecticut GOP Senate candidate Alan Schlesinger was unusual.

"No," Snow replied. "Actually, there have been races in the past where candidates didn't meet the expectations of the local parties, and presidents have stayed out, Democrats and Republicans, in the past."

Reporters demanded examples. The next day, Snow produced a list. "In 1970, President Nixon took a neutral position in the US Senate race between [Vietnam war critic] Sen. Charles E. Goodell (R-N.Y.) and challengers Rep. Richard Ottinger (D-N.Y.) and James L. Buckley ." In 1980, GOP officials did not support a Republican in Michigan, the list said.

Then in 1982, President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush did not campaign against 20 House Democrats who voted for Reagan's tax cuts, the list said. (Not really the same as not endorsing the official GOP candidate.)

In 1990, Democratic National Committee Chairman Ronald H. Brown denounced Rep. Gus Savage (D-Ill.), accused of making sexual advances toward a Peace Corps volunteer, and pledged not to give his reelection campaign any funds. (That's not the president, but okay.) In 1991, Bush I "refused to endorse Louisiana gubernatorial candidate David Duke ," Snow's office said.

So, let's see, in the last 26 years, we've got two cases, one involving an alleged sex offender and the other a Klansman. Not unusual at all. Meanwhile, Bush's candidate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), is cruising in the polls.

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