The planned New Year's Eve millennium fireworks extravaganza, featuring fireworks cascades down the sides of the Washington Monument, is almost certain to be, as event co-producer George Stevens Jr. says, "a once-in-a-lifetime sight."

That's because the scheme had to overcome a federal rule against hanging things from the monument and some strong objections from the National Park Service. NPS, after a meeting about two weeks ago between Stevens and NPS chief Robert Stanton, nixed the idea of using the Founding Father's monument as a giant launch pad.

NPS officials said a long-standing regulation--enacted to keep the monument off-limits to anti-war, abortion and other demonstrators--barred hanging explosives from the monument.

The Park Service apparently was concerned that pyrotechnics can be a bit dirty and it had just spent more than $10 million to clean the monument. Also, the Park Service is renting that scaffolding by the day and was hoping to take it down by the end of the year or thereabouts, but this will delay that and the reopening of the monument. And then there was the question of creating a precedent for getting an exemption to the regulation--not for some important political issue with free speech implications or even for some patriotic event--but for a New Year's Eve bash.

But this will never do, the millennium planners protested. Their exceptionally fine plan would have President Clinton light some kind of fuse at the Lincoln Memorial that would go down along the reflecting pool and then over to and up the monument to start the cascades and other explosions. This would be huge, extraordinary--millennial!

So, not to be deterred, the millennium planning folks went to the White House to see if they could roll the Park Service. The story gets a bit murky here. Naturally, there were suspicions of political string-pulling, what with Steven Spielberg and other big contributors involved, but White House folks say their lawyers simply referred the planners' lawyers to the Department of Interior. No indication of any call from Clinton to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, said an Interior Department spokesman, only questions from the planners on "how to make this happen."

And guess what? Department lawyers scampered down Wednesday--that would be the 200th anniversary of George Washington's death--to file a rule revision in the Federal Register to allow the fireworks.

A key point favoring the move is that the rule against using the "restricted zone" around the monument had an "exception" for the "official annual commemorative Washington birthday celebration," according to the filing.

Of course, that "exception" only allows chairs to be set up near the monument and a wreath to be placed inside the monument at the foot of Washington's statue.

Chairs, fireworks. Hey, one exception's as good as another.

Francis, Airborne Till

His Wings Get Clipped

Highflying National Transportation Safety Board vice chairman Robert T. Francis may be spending more time on the ground next year. His five-year term expires at the end of the month, though he may stay on for a couple of weeks.

Francis, who hasn't been talking much to colleagues since he learned he was not being renominated--he ruffled feathers by skipping holiday and goodbye parties for senior officials--is reported to have circumnavigated the globe at least three times to carry out his NTSB duties.

And there was still one more trip to go. This was a 10-day jaunt last month to Paris, Brussels and Toulouse on his way to a speech in Morocco. NTSB paid only $2,366.18 and the Moroccan government picked up the rest.

NEC and NEC

The National Economic Council is gearing up: Gigi Georges, director of government relations for the American Federation of Teachers, is to be National Economic Council chief Gene Sperling's overall right-hand policy person on several big issues, including China and the World Trade Organization. Also, California lawyer David Tseng, who worked at the Labor Department in this administration and went home to be chief assistant treasurer of San Francisco, returns to be NEC staff director. And, history professor Sean Dobson, who worked at the Holocaust museum, is advising on communications and strategy.