Sunny Australia Sure Beats a Senate Hearing

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, is quite put out these days with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. Seems Boxer had been working for several weeks to have Johnson -- no stranger to being hauled before her committee -- come up and chat about ozone, mercury, global warming . . . that sort of thing. Committee aides had been trying to get dates in April when Johnson might be able to testify. But the EPA folks didn't seem to want to commit to a specific time.

Imagine Boxer's joy at discovering last week that Johnson couldn't make it because he was off -- with 11 staff members (including seven -- that's seven -- advance personnel) and a security detail on a two-week jaunt to Australia, at the invitation of U.S. Ambassador Robert McCallum, an old Bush pal from Skull and Bones days at Yale.

The EPA estimates that the trip will cost about $280,000, approximately half of the agency's travel budget for the year.

In February 2007, McCallum wanted only Benjamin Grumbles, assistant administrator for water, to come over. It was at a time when Australia's conservative government was solidly behind President Bush's policies, in Iraq and on other matters, including the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States and Australia declined to sign.

The first thing Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd did after he was elected five months ago was to sign the accord, so it seems most unlikely that the Aussies are looking to strategize with outgoing Bush administration folks, who are hardly in long-range planning mode themselves.

But the EPA, responding Monday to Boxer's questions about the trip, said "the embassy proposed that early April, 2008 would be an opportune time for a visit," especially in light of "our ongoing environmental collaboration" and because of the November elections. The new government's top environmental folks will be meeting with Johnson, the EPA told Boxer.

Curiously, though, McCallum's "invitation" says he is "delighted to hear that you are considering an April visit to Australia" and notes that he wants to "encourage you to come."

The schedule itself shows the importance of the trip: "A visit to the Melbourne Eastern Water Plant," then to the "working Otway carbon sequestration site." There's the "Queensland Territory's Bundamba advanced water treatment" operation, plus a "tentative farm visit" to look at pesticide usage, and a trip to the "Westcliffe Ventilation Air Methane Project" as part of a review of emissions-reduction efforts. These are critical meetings.

And there will be lots of very important meetings with Australian officials and private-sector folks in Victoria and New South Wales and Queensland Territory. Unclear if a visit to the Great Barrier Reef is in order.

These trips to the other side of the globe are especially arduous, involving long air travel and brutal jet lag. But Johnson clearly feels it's important to go the extra few thousand miles. It's his third long voyage in the last 14 months. He was in India early last year. Then, Loop fans may remember, Johnson didn't make it to the big U.N.-sponsored climate change conference in Bali because he had to go to Beijing to meet with officials there.

Well, however grueling the trips may be, sure beats getting slapped around again by Boxer. The weather -- sunny, with temperatures in the mid-70s -- sounds just lovely, mate.

How to Play Those Photos

A few weeks ago, some folks at the Department of Housing and Urban Development were wondering whether the disappearance of the Secretary Alphonso Jackson photo display at the north entrance to headquarters was a sign of the times. A signal that perhaps Jackson was on his way out?

But, no, the spectacular display was moved to make way for some filming of "State of Play," a movie starring Russell Crowe. The north entrance, generally used by staff, was going to be a hospital entrance in the movie, and 18 2-by-3-foot photos of the outgoing secretary wouldn't do.

Unclear whether the lovely shots will be rehung, since Jackson is outta there on April 18. One source at HUD says the entrance is a mess right now, with tape, mountings and other stuff hanging on the walls.

As for the even larger photographic homage to Jackson at the south entrance -- the one used by visitors -- we're hearing those prints will be removed when he goes. (Look for special autographed copies on eBay any day now. That should help defray lawyers' fees.)

Then there's Jackson's painted portrait, the one he commissioned simultaneously with those of four predecessors -- Jack Kemp, Henry Cisneros, Andrew Cuomo and Mel Martinez-- for $100,000. They are all being stored in the basement, our colleague Mary Ann Akers reports, waiting for the right moment for hanging in the snazzy HUD auditorium to be completed in May.

And when that moment arrives, they might join the portrait of the last HUD secretary hung in the old auditorium -- Sam "Mr. Mayor" Pierce.

Careful With the Comparisons

The Associated Press account of Sen. Amy Klobuchar's (D-Minn.) endorsement Monday of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) mentioned that she compared Obama to former vice president Hubert H. Humphrey. But the Obama campaign's news release of her endorsement didn't seem to include that reference.

Here's the quote from the original statement, according to the AP:

"The Democratic Party is blessed this year with two candidates with many excellent leadership qualities, and I believe either of them would be very good presidents," Klobuchar began. "I am endorsing Barack Obama today, because he has inspired an enthusiasm and idealism that we have not seen in this country in a long time.

"Minnesota's own Hubert Humphrey once talked about his vision for the politics of happiness, the politics of purpose and the politics of joy. That is what we have in Barack Obama."

Maybe that part vanished from Obama's version because Humphrey, having lost to Richard M. Nixon in 1968, might also remind folks of the politics of losing?

Another Official Role

Just because the Bush presidency ends in January doesn't mean all family members will be out of government. Bush on Monday nominated John H. Hager of Virginia to be a member of the National Council on Disability for a term that expires in September 2009.

Hager is the father of the president's soon-to-be son-in-law, Henry Hager, who is marrying Jenna Bush. John Hager is a former lieutenant governor of Virginia and former chairman of the state's disability commission. More recently, he was assistant secretary of education in charge of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, and is chairman of the Virginia GOP. Of course, the Senate would have to confirm him.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company