A year ago, White House Chief of Staff Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty vowed the administration would clean up its act on unrestricted White House access by presidential pals -- a practice the General Accounting Office says creates "the appearance of inappropriate influence." Some friends of President Clinton, such as Hollywood producer Harry Thomason, received White House "hard" passes at the outset of the administration. The passes allowed them to roam freely through the White House without appointments or a record of their activity. Regular folks have to call the White House for an appointment and are not afforded roaming rights.
But what the White House didn't disclose when it announced it was confiscating the pals' hard passes was a less known way to wander the White House at will: an "access list" kept by White House guards. Folks on that list simply give their names at the gate and enter at will, just as if they had the coveted hard passes. White House officials confirmed that at least three Clinton lobbyist-friends have been on that list throughout the administration: Vernon E. Jordan Jr., the rainmaker lawyer (that's Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld) who served as co-chairman of the Clinton transition; Susan Thomases, the friend-adviser to Hillary Rodham Clinton whose law firm, Willkie Farr & Gallagher, lobbies; and Michael Berman of the Duberstein Group, a Washington lobbying firm. A senior official said that a review of the pass situation -- launched when it was revealed that hundreds of White House officials had delayed getting their permanent passes -- also turned up the access list, which then was purged of the Clintons' lobbyist friends. Henceforth, the Vernon Jordans of the world will have to make an appointment. Administration officials, first contacted by The Washington Post more than three weeks ago about the access list, say the names were removed about two weeks ago. (They added that press inquiries were not responsible for the tightening-up.)
Pentagon Paper Chase Looks like House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) has succeeded in getting the Pentagon to give Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D-Calif.) the documents he wants for a long-planned investigation of congressional earmarking of grants to universities and the like. So there will be no subpoenas for Pentagon officials by Brown's Science, Space and Technology Committee -- as had been threatened. Foley's move did not resolve the larger issue -- certain to come up again -- as to whether Brown has the right to get the documents directly from the Pentagon.
The New Math Deep thoughts by Roger W. Johnson, administrator, General Services Administration: In a recent memo to Office of Management and Budget Director Leon E. Panetta, Johnson, the first Republican recruited into the administration by Clinton, says he's concerned that "some other agencies" are trying to avoid budget cuts and are using new programs -- the crime bill, for example -- as excuses. This and other things "have led me to conclude that the federal work force, in all branches but particularly at higher levels, suffers from a fundamental lack of half the skills in arithmetic. On the one hand we seem highly skilled in addition and multiplication, but completely inept at subtraction or division. Maybe (Education) Secretary (Richard W.) Riley can provide some help." Johnson helpfully sent a copy of the letter to Clinton and Vice President Gore.
Investigating a Would-Be Inspector A bump in the road to filling an inspector general's job. Betty Ann Soiefer, counsel to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, is under consideration to be IG at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), in an April 29 letter to Clinton, says the General Accounting Office "is investigating a matter that may involve Ms. Soiefer in which a whistleblower's confidentiality was allegedly compromised after disclosure of information to the Congress." Grassley says he's not accusing Soiefer of any wrongdoing, but asks that "further consideration of her for this position be postponed" until the matter is resolved. Soiefer says she "didn't violate any whistleblower's confidentiality" and that she's "just as concerned as Senator Grassley ... that the rights of whistleblowers not be violated."
Glasnost in Bethesda National Institutes of Health boss Harold Varmus has run afoul of the local press for holding a "private" meeting with neighborhood activists on medical waste incineration and other issues. Varmus refused to allow a Bethesda Gazette reporter to cover the meeting, held at El Caribe, a local restaurant. The paper lodged a formal protest with NIH, saying Varmus violated the federal open meetings law. NIH says a response is coming.
From Illinois to Energy Terry Lash, former head of the Illinois Department of Nuclear Safety, has been appointed director of the Energy Department's Office of Nuclear Energy. Illinois news reports last year said he resigned amid allegations of misleading the legislature about a proposed nuclear waste dump -- allegations Lash has denied strongly.
Comings and Goings ... Stewart A. Baker, general counsel at the National Security Agency and before that in private practice here, is leaving to go back to his old law firm. Oops... . Stuart J. Ishimaru, mentioned in this space on Monday, was at the Commission on Civil Rights, not the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.