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Whirlwind Tour Beats Out Hurricane

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By Al Kamen
Wednesday, September 17, 2008

P resident Bush yesterday toured parts of Texas devastated by Hurricane Ike, saying that government at all levels is working hard to mitigate the effects of a storm that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff warned last week could present a "worst-case scenario."

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But Sandy K. Baruah, acting administrator of the Small Business Administration, wasn't on hand to join President Bush on his flyover, even though the SBA bills itself as "the federal government's leading post-disaster economic recovery agency" because of its "important role helping affected communities get back on their feet."

Baruah is scheduled to be in the air today, but not over Texas. He'll be winging his way back across the Atlantic from a five-day trip to Sweden.

Why Sweden? Baruah, who was accompanied by his deputy, Ben Erulkar, chief of staff Molly Wilkinson, and policy aide Mark Meredith, has been attending the Swedish-American Chambers of Commerce program Swedish-American Entrepreneurial Days (E-Days). When Ike smashed into Galveston on Friday and raced across Texas Saturday, Baruah was heading off to Stockholm.

On Sunday evening, we're told, he was to attend an important 90-minute reception at the U.S. Embassy to welcome the new embassy commercial counselor. Time was set aside so he could have the honor of meeting Ambassador Michael M. Wood before heading to his hotel for the evening.

Bright and early Monday, as rescue efforts continued in Texas, Baruah, Wood and Swedish officials held a news conference at the Clarion Hotel Sign, home of the famed Aquavit Grill and Raw Bar. Baruah then joined a panel on "Accelerating Business Between Sweden and the U.S." and gave the "keynote address" -- a 17-minute chat on the "New Realities of the 21st Century Worldwide Marketplace," which was transforming itself on Wall Street even as he spoke.

Then the hardy SBA quartet was off on the five-minute drive to the Stockholm School of Economics to chat with folks there; then it was back to the hotel.

Despite the need to be thousands of miles away from the hurricane relief effort, Baruah stayed on top of the situation. His schedule called for a 4 p.m. call to Steven Smith, the newly installed head of the Executive Office of Disaster Strategic Planning at the agency.

"Note: You will call Steve. Steve will provide a 10-minute briefing on SBA's response to Hurricane Ike," it says. Smith, a retired admiral, apparently talks very fast.

Perhaps there was no time for a long chat because the schedule called for a meeting with some Swedish trade officials and the Swedish ambassador to Mexico before giving Baruah time to rest up at the hotel for a gala banquet dinner celebrating E-Days.

Tuesday was a grueling seven-hour tour of not one, not two, not three, but four Swedish companies before the quartet hustled back to the hotel so Baruah could place another call to Smith for yet another 10-minute briefing on the agency's response to Ike.

He had an hour or so to do some other work and calls before rushing off to an early dinner called the "One Big Thing Retreat Kick-Off Dinner" at the ambassador's residence, which apparently ended early so he could catch a 6:40 a.m. flight to be back in Washington this afternoon.

Could be a contender for the 2008 Brownie Award.

Contest Deadline Today

Don't forget, midnight tonight is the deadline to enter In the Loop's quadrennial Pick the President Contest. Simply predict the winning candidate, the number of electoral votes he'll receive and his percentage of the popular vote. The first 20 entrants who correctly call all three (to the tenth of a point on popular vote) will win not only one of those highly coveted "In the Loop" T-shirts, but also a mention in this column to certify greatness in political prognostication.

Send entries -- one per person -- via e-mail to picktheprez@washpost.com or mail to In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

Remember, you must include a phone number -- home, work or cell -- to be eligible.

Duty Calls, Part II

When last we left Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, he was headed to Ethiopia, Mali and Ivory Coast on an AIDs-related voyage, followed by a trip to Pakistan. He then linked up with the U.S. delegation for the closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Beijing and returned home Aug. 25.

But Leavitt's foreign travels turned decidedly more upscale and traditional last week, when he stopped in lovely Anjou, France, about 200 miles southwest of Paris, to speak at a health conference. Then he hit the American Chamber of Commerce in Paris, met with folks at the Pasteur Institute, spoke at the opening of an exposition on malaria and stopped in at another conference.

But if you couldn't make that trip, there's one we're told is being planned by Environmental Protection Agency chief Stephen L. Johnson to Israel and Jordan in October that's not to be missed. Details apparently are still being worked out, but Johnson, fully rested from that excellent two-week jaunt around Australia a few months ago, is focusing on environmental problems in the Mideast.

Early buzz is he's taking a sizable contingent of aides with him, but it would be best to sign up quickly. Surely there are substantial pollution problems in Jerusalem, Masada, Bethlehem and Petra.

To the Private Sector

Former undersecretary of state for political affairs Nicholas Burns, last seen heading off to Harvard to do some teaching, is to be named today as senior counsel to clients at Edelman Public Relations and chairman of the firm's new global public affairs advisory board.

Burns, a career diplomat, had been ambassador to NATO and Greece, as well as the State Department spokesman. He served on the National Security Council.

And Richard Grenell, who's been director of communications and public diplomacy at the United Nations since 2001, working for four ambassadors to that organization, is heading back to California to be senior vice president of corporate communications for Kent Thiry, CEO of DaVita, a health-care company that specializes in kidney care. Grenell, who worked on the Hill and as a spokesman for former New York governor George Pataki (R), was also director of communications for former San Diego mayor Susan Golding (R).


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