Interior Motives

This time next year, Washington will go through its delightful variant of Pamplona's running

of the bulls: Thousands of consultants, pols, pals and campaign workers will tout themselves -- and stab one another in the back -- as they run after some 2,500 political jobs in the next administration.

Newcomers are often confused by the vast area of opportunities, so here are a few hints: Anything involving Italy is good. Anything about Russia is, well, not so good. Jobs dealing with the environment are usually just fine. And some of those are better than others.

Take, for example, Secretary Bruce Babbitt's Interior Department. For outdoorsy types, there's nothing like being at Interior for enjoying nature's wonders.

As a cold front was heading to Washington earlier this month, for instance, Babbitt was catching a few last rays in St. Croix, hosting the third meeting of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force. This team was created by a Clinton executive order on June 11, 1998, that tells all federal agencies to protect coral ecosystems and restore damaged reefs. Clearly, a serious matter.

The task force's first meeting was in Florida in December 1998 and the second was in Hawaii last spring. Next year's gathering is in Samoa. Got the pattern? Need to be near the reefs to check them out firsthand, after all. That's why the St. Croix meeting was at the Tamarind Reef Hotel, which boasts an "idyllic oceanfront setting" on its Web site.

The two-day conference included a morning boat trip to Salt River Bay to show reef ecosystems, and then discussion of an "action plan."

Of course, not all Interior task forces are equal. Babbitt also

has been known to speak at the Taskforce on Amphibian Decline and Deformities, formed last year to focus on what he said were "unexplained declines, deformities and even disappearances of frogs, toads, salamanders" and such. Worse yet, the TADD met at the Interior Department headquarters in February.

And then there was the symposium on "Science in Wildland Weed Management" Babbitt attended last year in Denver. Don't be put off by the name; this was one for "X-Files" and "Star Trek" fans. Babbitt's prepared statement focused on "Invasive Alien Species." He warned that "the invasion of noxious alien species wreaks . . . havoc" on the environment. "These aliens are quiet opportunists, spreading in a slow-motion explosion."

Set phasers to "stun."

Keeping Up With . . .

. . . Melinda Yee. When last we left the former Commerce aide, a federal judge was chiding her for discarding documents involving her work for then-Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown's trade missions. Congressional investigators charged that the missions were used as rewards for corporate executives who contributed to the Democratic Party. She was also linked with some of the controversy surrounding the Democratic fund-raising scandal, through her association with Commerce colleague John Huang and Indonesian banker James Riady.

But earlier this month we caught up with Melinda Yee Franklin -- she married in June -- traveling in Europe as one of 17 fellows selected by the German Marshall Fund of the United States for a three-week information-gathering trip. "I'm leaving all that past behind me," she said in a telephone interview from Barcelona, one of the five sites on her fellowship itinerary. "It was a very painful period, and a lot of us have moved on."

"I'm very happy out in San Francisco," where she is director of the city's Office of International Trade and Commerce, she said. "There's a whole different mentality than in Washington."

Franklin, who was never charged with any crime in connection with the federal investigations of Commerce trade missions or Democratic fund-raising, said she was nominated for the fellowship by the Council on Foreign Relations, of which she is a member.

German Marshall Fund officer Steve Grand said that an advisory committee and the fund's staff chose her based on her application and a telephone interview. "The people selected are those who will play important roles in their regions," he said. "She fits within that framework. The work she is doing in San Francisco fits very well with the kinds of people we want to engage in this program" to "forge bonds" with European counterparts. Grand said that, although Franklin's application clearly stated she had worked with the Democratic National Committee and the Commerce Department, he

was unaware of Franklin's involvement in the fund-raising scandal. "I don't know if [members of the selection committee] were aware of the connection," he said. "It was not discussed in the consideration process." He would not say whether her Commerce experience might have affected her selection. Of all the press releases the fund distributed about the project, only one generated a phone call in response, and that was our inquiry about Franklin. "You never get good publicity, do you?" Grand said. "Even when you try to do something noble."

Like they say, noblesse oblige.

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.