Just because you left town in a huff doesn't mean you can't come back to visit. So former Treasury secretary Paul H. O'Neill, last seen taking off for Pittsburgh, was in town last weekend with his wife, having dinner with Donald and Joyce Rumsfeld, pals from the Ford administration.

And does O'Neill miss working here in the nation's capital? Not at all, he told our colleague Glenn Kessler, who bumped into him breakfasting alone at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York on Monday.

O'Neill's feeling "liberated" and has "no regrets" at leaving a place where, "if you told the truth, it is treated as a gaffe." (That's because it most assuredly is a gaffe.)

"When I called that tax bill [the 2001 GOP House bill] 'show business,' that was the truth," he said over some fine coffee cake. And the current administration proposal? "They're selling it as tax reform," O'Neill sniffed. But when he was at Treasury he compiled a thick book of ways to reform the tax system, and that didn't include any of the stuff in the latest legislation.

Reporter Ron Suskind, he said, "has made me his project" for a 15,000- to 20,000-word profile of the outspoken executive and former secretary. More than enough space for O'Neill to put out his ideas and "let them sit there" for people to judge their merit.

This cannot be good news for the White House. Suskind's Esquire article this month -- with Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. putting down political strategist Karl Rove, and former faith-based chief John J. DiIulio Jr. also putting down Rove, is still causing occasional heartburn in the West Wing.

Not that he needs gainful employment any time soon, but O'Neill said he was "juggling 30 different offers" to work on projects including water development overseas and reducing health care costs -- 50 percent is his goal -- in this country.

Apparently no gigs with Bono just yet.

Glued to Their Desks

Speaking of the Treasury Department . . . continuity seems to be a major theme. Word is that secretary nominee John W. Snow will find Tim Adams, who has been chief of staff there since leaving the Bush campaign, staying on in the job, as will deputy chief of staff Jeffrey Kupfer.

Cafeteria Complaint? Eat Your Words

If memory serves, Richard M. Nixon was the most perturbed of presidents who would complain regularly about leaks from the bureaucracy. For many years the conventional wisdom was that nothing could be done about civil servants who wanted to express their views.

But the Bush administration has succeeded most spectacularly, it seems, in cowing bureaucrats so that they not only reveal no secrets, but also will say nothing at all about matters of great national import.

That's what the Federal Paper discovered after it ran a survey of the food in government cafeterias. Predictably, the weekly got a huge response. "We picked several of the comments," an editorial this week noted, "and asked permission to print them as letters to the editor on this page. Much to our surprise, several writers said they had to get clearance, and some withdrew their comments rather than go through the process."

Now that's keeping everyone on message.

Why Thompson Has No Midnight Oil

The National Journal has graded Bush Cabinet members in terms of their influence within the administration, clout on the Hill, success in helping President Bush politically and their management of the departments.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was the only one who got an overall straight A; former Treasury secretary O'Neill and Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman got the only D's.

The 71-page special report also includes Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson's favorite complaint about how, when he was governor of Wisconsin, he could have a great idea in the middle of the night and by the next day have people working on it.

But in Washington, "I have to vet it through all the various divisions and agencies in this department alone. Then, if I can get any degree of unanimity of support for my idea, then it goes over to the supergod called the Office of Management and Budget. And they vote you down nine times out of 10, just to show you who the boss is. Then if you do get it through OMB, then it goes over to the White House and the intelligentsia over there. They want to show you that they're in charge, so you usually have a very difficult time getting through them. If the president likes the idea, it goes on to Congress, and if Congress ever does approve it, then it's time to retire."

Before the Supreme Court rules it unconstitutional?

Changing Stations

Ronald D. Bonjean Jr., the highly regarded former press secretary for Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and before that communications director for the House GOP conference, is moving to the Commerce Department to be director of public affairs.

Ted Cruz, director of policy planning at the Federal Trade Commission and a domestic policy adviser on the Bush 2000 campaign, is moving back to Texas, where he's been appointed solicitor general for the Lone Star State. Makes for some tough weekend commuting, what with his wife Heidi's job directing Treasury's Latin America office.