Airline lobbyist Sylvia de Leon soon will learn whether she can remain on the Amtrak board of directors.

Five Senate Democrats--Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.), Paul S. Sarbanes (Md.), Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.)--asked President Clinton earlier this month to nominate James E. Coston, a Chicago lawyer, to the seventh seat on a restructured board that oversees the nation's passenger railroad. That, however, is the seat de Leon had been hoping to retain.

It's not as though de Leon, a lobbyist for American Airlines, is without connections. A partner at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, the law firm of veteran Democrat Robert Strauss, de Leon was coordinator of transportation issues for the Clinton-Gore transition.

A Senate Commerce Committee showdown over her nomination is looming. Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) is planning to move the nomination at the committee's next markup session, probably later this month.

De Leon was unavailable for comment. Railroad officials say the Coston letter reflects the efforts of Thomas "Tim" J. Gillespie Jr., a former Amtrak lobbyist whom Coston hired to push his candidacy.

Forest Fire

The U.S. Forest Service has been rapped for lobbying Congress. It's okay for federal agencies to prepare information for Congress, but not to use government funds to pressure members on how they should vote.

And that's what the General Accounting Office said some members of the Agriculture Department agency did as they responded to a recommendation last year from Forest Service chief Mike Dombeck. He had urged his workers to discuss the service's new natural resource agenda with "your colleagues, your friends and your neighbors."

The GAO said workers at the Huron-Manistee National Forest in Michigan staged a "Friends of the Forest" meeting, at which a supervisor urged representatives of the Sierra Club and Georgia Pacific Corp. to "let Congress know what our problems and solutions are."

GAO investigators said they could find no evidence that the Forest Service officials knew they were violating the lobbying ban. Sen. Frank H. Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, the Alaska Republicans who requested the GAO study, said they would be more troubled by the findings were it not for Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman's promise to develop strict guidelines for Forest Service workers.

At least Smokey Bear, the agency's beloved firefighter, wasn't implicated.

Political Stamp-ede?

Getting a commemorative stamp approved by the U.S. Postal Service soon may become a more political process. The Postal Service this week placed its stamp program under its top lobbyist, Deborah Willhite. A former Democratic Party official, Willhite is the agency's senior vice president for government relations, and, in addition to lobbying Capitol Hill, she supervises the agency's public communications programs.

Postal officials say the change will "give us an opportunity to blend philatelic policy with public policy." With lawmakers seeking new stamps to fight prostate cancer and diabetes and to honor numerous local heroes, the change could ensure Willhite a warm reception even with some Republicans.

Asked if he feared that Willhite would be overwhelmed with stamp requests from lawmakers, Postmaster General William J. Henderson laughed. "They do it to me," he said. "I mean, every American wants a stamp."

The Plot Thickens

It has lots of characters (17,000 people) and lots of organizations (11,000). And the plot, such as it is, is simple: a book listing who's representing whom in Washington.

That simple formula has made Washington Representatives must reading for anyone on K Street or Capitol Hill. The 23rd edition, out this week and priced at $99, seemingly contains proof of the industry's growth. It's a bigger book by 164 pages--and pricier by $4--over the 1998 volume.

Surprisingly, only about half of the 17,000 people listed actually are registered on Capitol Hill as lobbyists. The others are in public affairs or the government or are registered as foreign agents, says associate editor Neil E. Hochman. The number of lobbyists has remained pretty consistent, varying by no more than 100 or so a year in the past three years.

But there are some added features that Hochman says probably account for the larger size. A new index lists the players by specific issues, such as tobacco, pollution and waste, real estate, and ports. Also included this year are more e-mail addresses and Web sites, increasingly used by coalitions and lobbyists.

The book's weakness is that it is only as good as the information lobbyists provide Congress. So much lobbying work is crisis-oriented--one firm may have a client today, only to see it leave tomorrow for another lobby shop.

Moving On

Christian Josi, who was managing partner of the Josi Organization of New York, has been named executive director of the American Conservative Union.

Robert Tappan, who was president of Tappan Communications, a public relations firm, has joined Powell Tate as director of business development.

Bill McAllister's e-mail address is