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Mayans perform a ritual
Mayans perform a ritual "cleansing" of the Iximche archaeological site in Guatemala after President Bush stopped by on Monday. They aimed to rid the site of any lingering "bad spirits" before a visit by Bolivia's president. (By Moises Castillo -- Associated Press)

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By Al Kamen
Friday, March 16, 2007

New federal employees are generally briefed about the ins and outs of their jobs, and they receive training on compliance with federal ethics regulations. But it's become painfully obvious in recent weeks that they need help on handling Congress and the media and on the proper use of e-mails when, as often happens, the subpoenas hit the fan.

This is hardly a new problem. For example, here's Ronald Reagan's chief of staff, Don Regan, explaining in late 1986 how $30 million could have been paid to the Nicaraguan Contras without his knowing about it.

"Does a bank president know whether a bank teller is fiddling around with the books?" Regan asked reporters. "No."

Within a few months Regan was taking up painting in retirement in North Carolina.

And here's Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, talking to reporters on Tuesday: "As we can all imagine, in an organization of 110,000 people, I am not aware of every bit of information that passes through the halls of the Department of Justice, nor am I aware of all decisions." Unclear what his hobbies are.

Before that, then-Army Surgeon General Kevin Kiley told a Senate committee looking into Walter Reed Hospital conditions: "I don't do barracks inspections."

The training, at a minimum, should reduce arrogance and defensiveness when the officials are taking heavy incoming. Admit problems, be humble, take the hits, promise to do better. It might not comport with your naturally arrogant or defensive character, but learn to fake it.

A second key component of the training would be proper e-mailing. Always assume it's possible that your administration may, at some point, have to deal with one or both bodies of Congress in the hands of your opponents. They will subpoena your e-mails. That can present problems. Ask former Gonzales chief of staff Kyle Sampson.

Now, That's How to Obfuscate

And now, in the midst of "Sunshine Week," celebrated by House passage Wednesday of major open-government legislation -- with Senate passage expected -- the National Security Archive announced yesterday the winner of its esteemed Rosemary Award.

The Rosemary honors President Richard M. Nixon's secretary, Rose Mary Woods, whose historic contortionist stretch at her desk caused her to "accidentally" erase 18 1/2 minutes of a tape of a key Watergate conversation.

The Rosemary is given each year to the federal agency that the Archive deems had the worst Freedom of Information Act compliance. And the winner is . . . the Air Force, which just edged out the FBI and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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