Taking Lachance With the Weather

* As we gazed at the snow blowing over downtown Washington, we wondered: When the federal government shuts down, does that happen by bureaucratic inertia? Nope. It turns out that a real person makes this command decision. She's Janice R. Lachance, the 46-year-old director of the Office of Personnel Management.

"It is an awesome responsibility," Lachance told us yesterday as she weathered a barrage of criticism that she made her call too late. "We do the best we can under very tough circumstances. I'm never going to make everybody happy." A native of Biddeford, Maine, a small town south of Portland, she added: "I try hard to be sympathetic to people who aren't from cold-weather states."

Lachance's day started with a 4 a.m. conference call in which she and various weather and transportation experts assessed the situation. At 7 a.m., after many of the area's 600,000 federal workers were already braving the blizzard, she decided. Meanwhile, Lachance was stranded in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where she had been stumping for Vice President Gore. Her flight home was canceled, and she had to scramble to find new lodgings after being kicked out of the Days Inn to make room for new arrivals. "At this point, I'm kind of delirious," Lachance told us.

A former political operative for the American Federation of Government Employees, Lachance was named personnel chief in 1997. When not shutting down the nation's capital, she reads history, especially biographies of Harry S. Truman, who also "made some tough decisions." She also shops for antiques for her Alexandria home. "I collect souvenir items of the U.S. Capitol." Her prized possession? An 1820-vintage "porcelain chamber pot with the Capitol in the bottom."

THIS JUST IN . . .

* Under the weather: "ER" stars Eriq La Salle and Noah Wyle, in town for an NBC dinner, were stuck at the Four Seasons Hotel yesterday after their flights were canceled. "I'm just reading scripts and catching up," La Salle told us. "I'm not interested in contributing to your story," Wyle snapped. Meanwhile, a chartered 727 carrying 69 CNN staffers including anchors Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff was forced to land in Buffalo, N.Y., yesterday on its way from Iowa to New Hampshire. After a three-hour wait, it took off again for Providence, R.I., where, after a terrifying landing, everybody climbed into buses for Manchester. "Everybody is in good humor," Woodruff told us from the road.

* Former political genius Dick Morris insisted in his New York Post column yesterday that Vice President Gore's media consultant, Robert Shrum, is the son of Democratic money man Walter Shorenstein. "I've been a friend of Walter's for 20 years," Shrum told us yesterday, "but what I want to know is: Where's my trust fund?"

Money for Nothing

Woodbridge resident Jennifer Hartz was psyched. She'd be celebrating the new millennium with bands like Third Eye Blind and Everclear at a ritzy New Year's Eve gala at MCI Center. "Big national bands, a big party, free booze and lots of fun," Hartz told us, recalling her reaction to Capital Countdown 2000. So on Nov. 15, the 24-year-old systems engineer reserved places for herself and her boyfriend, 32-year-old sales rep Greg Seitz. She charged the $708 price to her Visa card, then spent $200 for a party outfit--"some silver hot pants and a little cute tube top with sequins." But two days before the event, the organizer, Shack Events Promotion Inc. of Falls Church, announced that the party was canceled--and promised that refunds would be forthcoming. Four weeks later, Hartz still doesn't have her money.

"I am outraged," she told us. "It's ridiculous that consumers have no way to demand what's right." She said she has tried repeatedly to reach Mike Harrigan of Shack Events. Harrigan told us that Hartz's name doesn't ring a bell, though he acknowledged that Hartz and other ticket-holders are "understandably concerned."

"The entire situation is devastating," he said. "We feel horrible that the event was canceled and further that some people are experiencing inconveniences in getting their money back." Harrigan said that Shack Events spent all its money paying the bands. Meanwhile, the 3,500 tickets sold fell far short of the 10,000-ticket goal. Harrigan, who says he has responded to hundreds of dissatisfied customers, estimates that perhaps 2,000 ticket-holders are still awaiting refunds. "We're trying to inform them as best we can of their options," Harrigan said. Hartz is not amused.

"What made me identify with her is the way that she's been portrayed, vilified, humiliated, excoriated for her looks, because she felt compelled apparently to have truly drastic plastic surgery, with stuff put in her face and taken out of her face, and I began to really feel sorry. She imagines that the fault was in her. That's the way we are taught to think as female people."

--Gloria Steinem, empathizing with her sister in victimhood, Linda Tripp, on this Friday's edition of ABC's "20/20."

CAPTION: All dressed up and no place to go: Seitz, Hartz.

CAPTION: Janice Lachance, snow day decision-maker.

CAPTION: The sympathetic Steinem.

CAPTION: Snowed in, in style: "ER" stars Wyle and La Salle.