In the Loop: Commerce Secretary Locke critical of visa process

Hillary Clinton and Gary Locke with the president in Singapore. Did the subject of visa delays come up? (And if so, did the smiles disappear?)
Hillary Clinton and Gary Locke with the president in Singapore. Did the subject of visa delays come up? (And if so, did the smiles disappear?) (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/associated Press)
By Al Kamen
Monday, November 16, 2009

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke is off to Asia this week, stopping in Singapore to join Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for some regional meetings and then head off with her and President Obama to Beijing. That should give her plenty of time to chat with him about his repeated -- and unusually public -- criticisms of the visa-issuance process. He has said that the procedures needlessly block foreign businessmen. Last we checked, visas were Clinton's domain, not Locke's.

In a Nov. 4 speech to a conference of exporters here, Locke said, "The United States often makes it too difficult for foreign company executives to enter here to do business -- a shortcoming that has had a tangible cost for American businesses by shutting out some of their best customers."

"For example," he continued, "the Association of Equipment Manufacturer Executives has reported that its members lose one in three Chinese buyers invited to attend major U.S. trade shows because their visas are denied. . . . And Boeing recently had to delay the delivery of a $250 million freighter because an inspector from the Chinese aviation authority didn't receive his visa on time."

This processing can be done "in a matter of weeks," he said, "but recently the time has stretched to as much as four months in some cases."

Locke told the exporters that the government has "made some tentative progress" on this of late, but he added that he has created a Commerce Department task force to make additional improvements.

Turns out Locke used the same examples to criticize the process in a July speech to an international trade group. (Makes you wonder just how recent the Boeing problem was.)

Locke's task force can meet all it wants -- meeting is what task forces do best, after all -- but nothing's going to happen without Madam Secretary's sign-off. So maybe an interdepartmental task force? One that includes the Department of Homeland Security as well?

Too much passion

Speaking of Clinton, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, commenting Friday on the long-expected resignation of White House Counsel Greg Craig, told reporters that Craig never wanted to be an administration lawyer.

"Greg is, as you know, somebody who served in a previous administration in foreign policy. That's his passion," Gibbs said. He called Craig a "reluctant acceptor" of the counsel position.

So why didn't he land a foreign policy job? we wondered. And why can't he get one now?

Oh, yeah. Forgot about this item we wrote just after the election, the one about Craig's March 2008 hit memo on Clinton, his law school classmate and longtime pal.

After a passing shot at Clinton's "failed effort" on health insurance, Craig, a senior State Department staffer during her husband's presidency, argued that her "claims of foreign policy experience are exaggerated." He then delivers a claim-by-claim rebuttal, from her helping to broker the peace in Northern Ireland -- "gross exaggeration" -- to helping open Kosovo's borders, to urging President Bill Clinton to intervene in Rwanda, and so on, including that sniper-fire thing in Bosnia.

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