Federal City Digest: A Flap Over Masks

(Ed Andrieski - AP)
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Friday, May 15, 2009

A Flap Over Masks

Lawmakers blasted the Department of Homeland Security yesterday for not authorizing the use of protective face masks by employees working along the U.S.-Mexico border during the swine flu outbreak. Some suggested that the department had placed bureaucratic considerations ahead of the health and safety of its workers.

Homeland Security's undersecretary for management, Elaine C. Duke, told members of a House subcommittee that the department based its decisions on the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government agencies coordinating the federal swine flu response, our colleague Ed O'Keefe reports.

Duke admitted that some Customs and Border Protection supervisors at U.S.-Mexico border crossings did not permit officers to wear masks while screening travelers. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, above, made the ultimate decision on protective masks, Duke said.

"Your excuses are lame when you say you're following the medical advice," the subcommittee chairman, Stephen F. Lynch, (D-Mass.) told Duke.


-- President Obama receives the 2008 World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies for a White House visit.

-- Vice President Biden, in San Diego yesterday, today visits Los Angeles, where he will tour the Esperanza Community Housing Corp. in south-central L.A. with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D), and Deputy Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ron Sims. Later, Biden and the others discuss Recovery Act support for HUD programs to eliminate lead-based paint from low-income homes and protect children from lead poisoning.

-- The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee at 9:30 a.m. holds its twice-postponed hearing on the nomination of Robert M. Groves to be director of the Census Bureau. Groves will testify.

-- Connecticut prosecutor Nora R. Dannehy questions top Bush White House adviser Karl Rove as part of the investigation into the firing of U.S. attorneys in 2006. [Story, A2]

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