In the Loop: A Senate Committee Annexes Canada

On a Senate committee's Web site, our purple mountains' majesty is illustrated with a beautiful shot from the great state of Alberta.
On a Senate committee's Web site, our purple mountains' majesty is illustrated with a beautiful shot from the great state of Alberta. (Screenshot Of The Environment Of Public Works Website - Screenshot Of The Environment Of Public Works Website)
By Al Kamen
Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce alerted us Monday to an interesting photo on the Web site of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Seems, with summer heat bearing down soon on the area, as "readers consider how to escape the heated climate change debate and spend their vacation dollars this summer," that senators wanted to be sure Americans don't forget the glories of . . . the Rockies, the Chamber told us by e-mail.

The committee's home page featured a beckoning photo of a spectacular vista in that mountain range. One problem, though: It was of Lake Louise, which happens to be in the Canadian Rockies.

We called the committee's majority Democrats to ask about this promotion of foreign travel. But a spokesman referred us to Republican members, saying "they were responsible" for the photo.

And indeed, a committee GOP spokesman said that back on Dec. 22, 2006, with Democrats poised to take over the Senate, "we put together this fantastic new Web site," and the Republicans were rushing to put it up "before they took over."

So the outgoing Republicans decided to use some placeholder pictures that a vendor provided. Had they regained control, they most likely would have added pictures of Oklahoma (ranking GOP member Jim Inhofe's state) or maybe some oil rigs to the ones being used.

The Democrats changed some of the pictures. It became more California (Chairman Barbara Boxer's state), and more polar bears and such were added. But "they haven't seen fit to take this one down," the Republican spokesman added.

Wait a minute, a Democratic staffer retorted. "We didn't vet their selections. We inherited the site." The Democrats changed a few pictures, that staffer said, but "if they'd wanted to change a picture, they could have said so." The foreign picture has been taken down, we were told.

But some of those bears looked distinctly Canadian. Did anyone check?

An Agency in Need of AID

There was much talk by the Obama team during the campaign about how international development was so important to national security and how it needed to be a priority. But six months into the Obama administration, the Agency for International Development, though deeply troubled and adrift, now finds itself without a single top job filled by an Obama appointee. This is not a question of a couple of senior folks being "home alone." We're talking a virtual haunted house.

Given the Senate timetable, even if the White House moves immediately to put someone in charge, it's most likely that no top officials will be confirmed for jobs over there until the fall or later. Most every one of the dozen Senate-confirmed jobs -- from administrator down to the regional chiefs -- has someone "acting" in the job, meaning a career officer babysitting and waiting for direction from new policymakers.

It's so bad that when we called yesterday to verify the listings -- and to ask why Jonathan Addleton was listed as acting administrator for legislative and public affairs when the White House had announced last week he was going to be ambassador to Mongolia -- a spokeswoman said she could not talk about that or the other "actings." She instead referred us to the National Security Council.

Proposals had been floating for many months about whether to consolidate various aid programs into one agency or perhaps to have another White House "czar" oversee international development efforts, but that doesn't appear to be happening. The delay, best we can figure, is more because the White House and the State Department have been trading names back and forth for some time, trying to reach agreement on candidates for the USAID administrator's job. There was talk a few weeks ago that a leading candidate was in vetting.

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