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Even Tom Ridge has to wait in airport lines

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, March 31, 2010; A15

The struggling Transportation Security Administration has not had an administrator since President Obama took office. The first nominee, Los Angeles airport police executive Erroll Southers, withdrew in January, blaming Republican opposition to collective-bargaining rights for TSA employees. Republicans said he misled Congress about the time he inappropriately accessed a federal database to get info about his estranged wife's new boyfriend.

The second nominee, retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert A. Harding, dropped out Friday after senators questioned his dealings as a military contractor providing Iraq war interrogators, among other things.

Some may wonder: So, who needs a TSA director? Well, the folks who showed up at Orlando's airport at 6 a.m. on Monday sure could have used someone to move the crowd through security. Hundreds and hundreds were waiting at the crack of dawn.

Among those stuck in the super-long lines? One Tom Ridge, the man who arguably helped create them in the first place as the first White House homeland security adviser and later secretary of homeland security. A longtime Loop Fan tells us that Ridge, trying to make a flight to Washington, was good-humored about it all, even if some other passengers were not so sanguine.

"Even you have to wait in line?" someone who recognized him asked.

"Yes. Absolutely," Ridge replied. "Some say it's justifiable punishment."

Sounds about right.

Down under vs. up over

There's still heated debate over how much the just-passed health-care bill will, as they say, bend the curve of projected increased health-care costs -- or whether it will cut costs at all.

But no matter the effect, no one is predicting the legislation will bring down costs to anywhere near the bargain prices of Australia, the Filene's Basement of health care.

The newspaper the Australian recently had its Washington bureau look into the substantial surgical and hospital costs run up recently by the country's ambassador here, Kim Beazley. Seems Beazley, newly arrived in Washington, slipped on the ice in his driveway during the February weather, snapping patellar tendons in both knees.

Beazley's bill, paid for by embassy-provided insurance, came to $35,100 (38,270 Australian dollars), which included tests, surgery, anesthesia, the hospital stay, and follow-up tests and costs.

The paper calculated, based on estimates from surgeons and hospitals in Australia, that, had Mr. B's knees been injured in Australia, "the repair job . . . would have cost about $9,560 [Australian], or about one-fourth of the costs here. Demanding personal attention from the country's top orthopedic surgeons might have upped the total some, but not that much, the paper said.

Beazley, 62, has been in a wheelchair but is mending nicely and back at work pretty much full time, we're told. Expected to be walking well around Memorial Day, but his rugby-playing days, alas, are over.

Keeping up with Gene

We wrote online Feb. 26 that Treasury Department counselor Gene Sperling was the pick to be nominated as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. Sperling was then reported to be considering the offer. (Right. Tough call.)

But there are clues that things have progressed quite nicely. It's not just that the FBI has been doing background checks. A more instructive sign is the growing number of people circling the BOG, or Bureau of Gene, housed in his spacious office on the third floor.

The crowd is circling -- reminiscent of that "Zorba the Greek" scene -- not necessarily because the office, down the hall from the secretary's, has a lovely view of the East Wing. And just down the nearby steps is the White House.

No, the growing crowds have been eyeing the enormous dark-wood conference table that dominates the room. It is perfect Sperling, suitable for a large wonkfest or policy debate or to crunch numbers with his substantial personal staff. No way that desk is coming out unless they chop it up.

Reply hazy, try again

Don't forget to fill out your 2010 Census forms. It's not that hard, and it doesn't take much time. On the other hand, some people -- especially transient college students, expectant mothers or people with fatal diseases -- may need to be a bit clairvoyant.

Seems the official form is dated March 15 and says, "Please complete and mail back the enclosed census form today."

But question No. 1 asks: "How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2010?" Well, take your best guess.

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