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Andy Griffith, Mayberry and Obamacare

By Al Kamen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2010; 10:46 PM

The Department of Health and Human Services didn't violate the rules when it hired veteran actor Andy Griffith to do three 30-second television ads hailing the benefits of Obamacare for seniors, the Government Accountability Office has found.

Republican Reps. Darrell Issa (Calif.) of the House Oversight Committee and Dave Camp (Mich.) of the Ways and Means Committee had asked the congressional watchdog agency in August to see whether HHS violated the prohibition against using taxpayer money for publicity or propaganda purposes when it paid for the spots.

In them, the 84-year-old Griffith, the former sheriff of Mayberry, N.C., says that "our new health-care law sure sounds good for all of us on Medicare." Starting next year, he says, "we'll get free checkups, cancer screenings and lower prescription costs. . . . Now, that is music to my ears."

The ads touting changes to the socialist Medicare program cost $3.2 million to produce and air - Griffith volunteered his time. GAO duly investigated and found that "nothing in the advertisements constitutes communications that are purely partisan, self-aggrandizing or covert," so they passed muster.

Also, the ads were part of "HHS's responsibility to inform beneficiaries about Medicare," the GAO said in a seven-page legal opinion for the two lawmakers that was obtained by our colleague Walter Pincus.

So maybe Deputy Barney Fife can relax.

At least 6 know Jack

In June, when last we checked on our pal Jack Abramoff, he'd completed 43 months in the slammer for fraud, corruption and conspiracy and was keeping a low profile, working in a kosher pizzeria in Baltimore.

But maybe he's lonely for his pals. He's newly up on Facebook, and he's got six friends so far, according to U.S. News & World Report's Washington Whispers. One of his pals is GOP activist Floyd Brown, a leader in the Bill Clinton impeachment effort who runs the ImpeachObamaCampaign.com Web site. He's also the founder of Citizens United, the group whose successful Supreme Court case has unleashed a wave of secret corporate contributions, apparently mostly for conservatives, in the current election cycle.

The Facebook photo shows a determined-looking Abramoff sitting in front of a chain-link fence. Unclear whether he's inside the fence or outside.

Can't find good help

Doesn't appear the White House is having an easy time in the search to replace National Economic Council chief Larry Summers. The goal, we're told, is to find someone of stature in the business world willing to sign up at a time when it seems clear that the political types are the ones running the show.

In addition, the new chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Austan Goolsbee, has emerged as a key economic adviser to Obama as Summers heads back to Harvard. One obstacle may be that business types, understandably, are not keen on working for the administration that keeps blaming Wall Street for the economic crisis and wants to raise taxes on all their mega-rich pals.

The really competent stars are more likely to want to replace Tim Geithner at Treasury, not Summers.

Not like the others

Speaking of financial matters, we recall Hillary Rodham Clinton's moving 2008 concession speech, when the future secretary of state noted the number of votes she'd gotten in the presidential primaries and said: "Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time . . . it's got about 18 million cracks in it."

And there are indeed a number of women in top political jobs around the nation. But in the world of international finance, well, the ceiling looks pretty solid, judging from this photo of the 47 deputy finance ministers and central bank officials attending the Group of 20 finance and central bank deputies' meeting in South Korea last month.

The lone woman is Lael Brainard, the U.S. Treasury undersecretary for international affairs. (She's placed in the middle, front row, we believe, only because of the U.S. influence in world finance.)

NOAA's art

Speaking of government spending, there may not be adequate money at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to study the effects of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but there seems to be enough to award a $120,000 contract to tout the agency's good works.

Under a contract with EarthSky Communications, the company "will interview 12 NOAA scientists conducting groundbreaking research benefiting the NOAA Pacific Region over the span of a year." Then the company will create a 90-second podcast from each interview and distribute them to "traditional and new media outlets." So that would be $10,000 per spot, $11 per second.

"The words and insights of each NOAA scientist interviewed," the work description says, "will be heard 12 million times, bringing the good work" they do "to a global audience of millions and creating products that are ideal for repurposing on NOAA's website."

The interviews will be on "cutting-edge and timely" topics, we're told. Which may be why they figure the interviews will be heard 12 million times. Unclear whether that number includes intergalactic as well as "global" listeners.

Correction

An item in Wednesday's column said outgoing Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) was heading to China and Russia. Such a trip had been planned, but Dodd decided against it.

Elliott Postell contributed to this report.

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