The Face of DHS Looks a Little Pale

By Al Kamen
Friday, March 7, 2008

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff apparently forgot the adage "When you're in a hole, stop digging."

On Wednesday, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee were reviewing a report that said Chertoff's department lags behind others in hiring women and minorities to senior positions.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) asked all the Chertoff aides sitting behind him at the hearing to stand up. Men in ties and jackets, all of whom appeared to be Caucasian, stood up. Without comment, Scott moved on to ask Chertoff about another issue.

But Rep. Melvin Watt (D-N.C.) returned to the diversity question. "You brought 10 staff people with you," he said, "all white males. . . . But I hope you've got more diversity in your staff than is reflected here. Please reassure me that is the case."

"I think that is definitely the case," Chertoff said.

"Okay," Watt said, and appeared to begin moving to another question.

But Chertoff continued: "I wouldn't assume that the ethnic background of everybody behind me is self-evident."

Watt replied: "I wouldn't assume the ethnic background of everybody behind you is self-evident, but I think I know an African American when I see one. . . . If anyone wants to stand up and volunteer and tell me they are an African American, I hope they will do that right now."

No one stood. Some in the audience began laughing.

"If anybody is a female that's sitting back there and wants to stand up and volunteer to tell me that," Watt continued, "I hope they will do that right now. And I want the record to show clearly that nobody stood up to volunteer in either one of those categories.

"So if you want to make that point and be cute about it," Watt said, "let me be explicit about it. . . . If we are going to do law enforcement in this country . . . we need to understand that there is an element of diversity in our country that is not represented here."

Watt concluded: "I'll take your word that it is represented more effectively in the composition in the rest of your department, and move on to what I'd like to really ask about," which involved the power of immigration officers to detain people.

As it turns out, there was indeed diversity in the group, a DHS spokesman said yesterday. One of the men was of Peruvian heritage, he said, another was born in Russia of Jewish heritage and a third was a lawyer originally from Iran.

We're pretty sure there were also at least two left-handers and one Episcopalian.

The Air Down There

Some Senate staffers investigating whether asbestos has affected the health of people working in the heating and cooling tunnels beneath Capitol Hill have come down with serious maladies.

Last fall, about a half-dozen people, working out of Room 113 of the Hart Senate Office Building, began to experience respiratory problems, including persistent coughing and asthma. Others had aches and pains or complained of not feeling well.

So in November, the Architect of the Capitol's office began testing for mold and other common "sick building" problems, sources said. They found chlorine fumes and carbon monoxide apparently being vented into the room.

The aides -- some from the staff of Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), others from a subcommittee of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee -- were moved in the last couple of weeks to Hart 143. Room 113 has been sealed.

So far there is no indication that aides in any of the offices nearby were affected.

Lose One for the Gipper

A book we didn't get to read on time:

"The Fred Factor: How Fred Thompson May Change the Face of the '08 Campaign." This nifty little gem was written last spring by Steve Gill, a Nashville radio talk-show host and chief political analyst for the ABC television news affiliate there, back when the former senator was pondering whether to jump into the race. Thompson announced in September, flamed out in January.

But Gill, repeatedly comparing Thompson to Ronald Reagan, writes that "Reaganesque Fred Dalton Thompson may be the only potential candidate who can prevent Hillary Rodham Clinton from being" president. There's also a useful and historic 31-page section on where Thompson stands on the issues. The back-cover blurb says the book "reveals the man behind the role, a man who could very well be the next President of the United States."

Or not.

Still, the book ranks No. 543,699 on Amazon's sales list. We'd loan our copy, but it's autographed by the author.

Leaving State

There's lots of movement on the diplomatic front. The State Department's undersecretary for political affairs, Nicholas Burns, left last week and William Burns, who was ambassador to Russia, was tapped to replace him. (Only people named Burns are allowed in that job.) Word is that John Beyrle, a highly regarded veteran diplomat, the current ambassador to Bulgaria and former No. 2 at the embassy in Moscow is replacing Burns in Russia. He speaks Russian, German, French, Czech and Bulgarian.

Meanwhile, former State spokesman Adam Ereli is giving up his ambassadorship in Bahrain for a year to be spokesman in the embassy in Baghdad. Ereli has been nicknamed Abu Musa, because his mini-mutt (poodle/Maltese mix) dog is called Musa. Musa, used to the fine life in Bahrain, is staying behind.

And Philip Reeker, a former department deputy spokesman, is heading off to a senior post in the Balkans. He had been No. 2 in the embassy in Budapest and is now the spokesman in Baghdad.

Going Private

Longtime Senate staffer Janice O'Connell has left the Hill to become a senior international adviser in the D.C. office of Hogan and Hartson. She'll be a member of the legislative and international trade practice groups, and will split her time between the law firm and Stonebridge International.

O'Connell worked on the Senate Foreign Relations and Banking committees for the past 30 years and was a top foreign policy and national security adviser to Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.).

Also, Shaun Donnelly, a career diplomat, former ambassador to Sri Lanka and more recently assistant U.S. trade representative for Europe and the Middle East, is moving to the National Association of Manufacturers to be the senior director for international business policy.

Donnelly replaces Bill Primosch, another former career foreign service officer, who is retiring from NAM.

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