Greg Craig's Gitmo war stories

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, April 21, 2010; A17

Former White House counsel Greg Craig is back in the news for having picked up mega-client Goldman Sachs, which has some big-dollar legal troubles, what with the feds trying to pin fraud charges on it for helping to destroy the U.S. economy and all. Earlier this month, speaking at a Harvard Law School gathering, Craig had some interesting thoughts on his prior employment.

Craig left the White House in January in part because of disputes over the plan to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and move the prisoners to somewhere not in anyone's neighborhood.

"Trying to unwind the Bush policies while trying to manage two wars was not easy," Craig said during his appearance at the law school, according to a report in the school's newspaper, the Harvard Law Record.

Craig's push to close the facility as fast as possible ran into strong pushback from White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Craig told the budding mouthpieces that Emanuel used the analogy of a crowded airport to illustrate the difficulty of the situation, the Record reported.

"We are trying to bring in two huge 747s [the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan] at the same time we are trying to reform our national health-care system," Craig said Emanuel told him (Craig obviously sanitized the quote for his student audience), "and right in the middle you want to send up a flock of Canadian geese, which is Guantanamo, which could take down one of those 747s."

Of course! Blame Canada!

Modest proposals

As we've been writing, the Obama White House has been, with steadfast help from the Senate, especially slow in filling top administration positions. The team started strong. Then, rocked by the Tom Daschle and Tim Geithner fiascos, plus the departure of personnel chief Don Gips after only six months, the operation went into a stall.

A study out today by the liberal Center for American Progress concludes: "The Obama administration had in place 64.4 percent of Senate-confirmed executive agency positions after one year," and thus it "lagged behind all four previous administrations in percentage terms after one year." The study relies on "data from the Office of Personnel Management and The Washington Post's 'Head Count' " to compare President Obama's record to those of previous administrations in terms of staffing Senate-confirmed positions in Cabinet departments and major executive agencies.

The Senate gets rapped for taking longer to confirm the president's nominees. The Senate took an average of 60.8 days to confirm Obama's nominees, compared with just 48.9 for Clinton, 51.5 for Bush I and 57.9 for Bush II, the study found.

The report recommends, among other things, that the Senate eliminate holds "unrelated to the nominee." These would be holds placed on nominees to force a federal agency to grant a huge contract to a home-state aviation company, to take a purely hypothetical example.

There are numerous other recommendations. One of the more intriguing is that the White House could grant waivers to its ethics rules "to permit former lobbyists with the requisite experience and skills to take important positions."

The White House, actually, has already moved in that direction. Getting rid of ethics hard-liner and special counsel Norm Eisen, who's probably headed to Prague, is a good first step. But the other hard-liner, Obama, won't be bought off with an embassy job.

Bumps in the road

A few years ago, the State Department launched something called International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS). The idea: Improve efficiency and cut costs by consolidating motor pools, warehouses, administrative supplies and so forth in countries where the Agency for International Development and U.S. embassies maintain operations.

The American Foreign Service Association, the Foreign Service union, surveyed USAID folks to see how they liked the new system. Not so much, it appears.

Of the 1,073 people who responded, about 61 percent said the new system harmed their morale and quality of life either significantly or somewhat. On the other hand, about 5 percent said ICASS improved things somewhat and substantially, according to the report.

AFSA collected 134 comments "supportive" of ICASS. A bit more than 1,500 were "clearly negative." Many said the new system was part of an effort by State to take over USAID. (Didn't that already happen?)

One complaint is that USAID folks get the short end of everything, with embassy personnel, for example, commandeering bigger work spaces. Another common complaint is that USAID officers are muscled out of the newly consolidated motor pool, leaving the USAID people to take taxis or walk -- even in some very sketchy places.

Why not a gamble?

The White House is said to be looking for a Supreme Court pick who's not Ivy League, not appeals court, not Catholic, not Jewish, and who is from the West, has strong local and law enforcement roots, and can relate to regular folks. So far no luck. Wait! How about Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid?

Reid, of Searchlight, Nev., was a Capitol Police officer, the city attorney of a Las Vegas suburb and a member of the state gambling commission. He's a Mormon, which would be a shot across the bow to possible presidential candidate Mitt Romney. And Reid may well be needing work soon. But age -- he's 70 -- could be a problem, and he had that stroke thing. So submit those medical records to Bob Bauer at the White House. Operators are standing by.

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