Give And Take

Even for veteran observers, Washington is a city of surprises. Just when you think you've seen the most absurd, something new appears.

For example, Dan Buck has witnessed his share of foolishness after more than 20 years watching the House in action under both Republicans and Democrats. Buck was a top aide to former representative Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.).

He's also an avid hiker, with an affinity for Latin America. Seems hikers and climbers in Bolivia have long been able to buy very accurate, detailed topographical maps from the Instituto Geo-grafico Militar in La Paz. But these very maps are secret and off-limits to the American public.

The National Imagery Mapping Agency, which makes those maps with U.S. taxpayer dollars, won't sell them because an agreement signed in the 1940s with Bolivia says NIMA can't provide the maps to anyone outside the U.S. government.

But in Bolivia the rules were different. When Buck was working on the Hill he obtained 151 of the maps during a visit to that country and donated them to the Library of Congress, which duly thanked him. "Your contribution is an important addition to our effort to collect and preserve the history of American cartographic production," library official Ralph E. Ehrenberg wrote. "I very much appreciate your interest in the development" of the library's collections.

After leaving the Hill, Buck says, he went back to the library to consult the maps -- only to discover that he no longer had access to the maps he had just donated. Sorry, only available to government employees.

AT the FCC: Nun Too Funny

Each day the Federal Communications Commission e-mails a news digest of rulings and announcements to some 6,000 subscribers -- mostly lawyers, lobbyists and businesses.

This is terminally boring stuff -- with the exception of the now-legendary May 7 digest. Amid the proposed regulations and such was an exceptionally raunchy joke, not to be repeat-ed here, involving Saint Peter, nuns, holy water and one male body part. "It created quite a stir in our otherwise mundane little world," one recipient noted.

Indeed, the FCC, which has some responsibility for monitoring indecent chat on the airwaves, reports an overwhelmingly favorable response from dozens in the regulatory community. "We're so glad to see the people at the FCC have such a sense of humor," was an agency source's description of the general tenor of the e-mail responses.

Even so, the mistake was promptly followed by apologies, the first from the woman in charge of preparing the digests -- who inadvertently sent the joke. We hear she's been assigned to other duties. Another apology went out from the head of the FCC public affairs office.

And, it seems, FCC Chair-man William Kennard was not amused. In a May 11 memo, Kennard reminded employees that the government e-mail system is for "official use only," and that folks should not put personal stuff on there and so on. In addition, Kennard issued a copy of the FCC's personnel policy to everyone and directed employees to review it for further elucidation of the rules.

Ain't technology grand?

Space, Yes; Spaced Out, No

Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) is on the leading edge of what could become a new congressional habit: ordering agencies to put behavior-modification messages on their Web sites. Salmon introduced an amendment last month to a NASA bill that would require, "not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act," that NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin call White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey for advice and then "place anti-drug messages on Internet sites controlled by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration."

The logic is simple, Salmon explained on the House floor. "The NASA Internet site is the most popular government Web site, receiving hundreds of millions of hits. For example, the Mars Pathfinder Web site logged roughly 750 million hits during its mission to Mars," Salmon told his colleagues.

Many of these hits are from kids, he said, noting that "thousands of schools around the country have incorporated the NASA Web site . . . [and] NASA has targeted students with interactive Web sites designed to engage young minds."

Given that kids are "constantly bombarded and surrounded by the influence of drugs," Salmon said, "now is the time to step up our prevention efforts to protect our children from the scourge of drugs. The NASA Web site is an excellent and cost-free way to send these anti-drug messages to our young children."

The House naturally approved the amendment and the bill and sent it to the Senate. Let's see what comes of this incipient trend in the coming months. Anti-gun messages on government Web sites? Anti-movie-sex items? And how about studies showing that millions of kids do not floss properly? In fact, many don't floss at all. As a result, untold billions of dollars are wasted each year on fillings, extractions . . .

Tips and comments for Al Kamen's column are welcomed at: In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or by e-mail at Loop@washpost.com. Please include home and work phone numbers.