Thomas A. Scully, administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), is known as a plain-spoken official, never one to mince words.

So for example, we find this March 5 e-mail to Gallup Organization managing partner Robert L. Nielsen, who had complained to an Office of Management and Budget official that there was "blatant collusion" in the contract award process for a survey of health care patient satisfaction.

"You are out of line and out of your mind," Scully wrote back. "You are such a weasel that you can't come discuss this with me like a normal human. I have no sympathy for you. I worked at OMB for 4 years? You don't think I understand the [expletive]you are up to. Would you like to discuss this with [OMB director] Mitch Daniels?? I will be happy to arrange it. You should be MUCH more careful with your accusations.

"Brenda [Aguilar, the OMB official Nielsen had written to and who was copied on the e-mail to Nielsen], if you meet with this guy it will be the last time I ever speak to you about CMS issues. I would like to investigate this idiot. I am the most open person in Washington and this JERK has never called me."

Ah, but Nielsen says he did write Scully July 11, asking to meet with him to talk about the survey and concerns Gallup and other survey companies had about what appeared to be an inside track on the survey award, which could be worth maybe $15 million to $20 million, going to a company called National Research Corp./Picker.

Nielsen said Friday he received no response from Scully to the letter. But the next week, Scully, via video, addressed a symposium that NRC/Picker held for clients and other folks but that no other survey firms attended.

In August, Nielsen and a Scully aide had lunch and Nielsen brought up his concerns about the contracting process.

There was a follow-up meeting in September between Nielsen and various officials. Nielsen said he raised concerns then about the number of former Picker employees at CMS and was told none would be involved in the selection.

Nielsen complained again when he found out two of the six selection committee members were former Picker employees. They were taken off the committee a few weeks later but other things kept happening to cause Gallup and other companies to continue to have concerns about the process.

Finally, Nielsen sent his March 5 e-mail to OMB asking for a funding freeze for a pilot survey until CMS's actions can be reviewed.

Melvin F. Hall, CEO of Press Ganey Associates in South Bend, Ind., a Gallup and NRC/Picker competitor, agreed that he and other survey companies were upset about the situation.

"We want a level playing field," he said Friday. "We want to be able to compete."

Meanwhile, Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), whose district includes Gallup's offices, has called for a congressional investigation, both into the contract process and Scully's "at best unprofessional" e-mail.

Scully said late Friday that he responds to hundreds of e-mails in the evening and it was about 11:30 p.m. when he wrote Nielsen and "sometimes I get cranky."

It was "the word 'collusion' that set me off," he said. But his e-mail was, he said, "foolish and inappropriate."

So maybe a 9:30 curfew?

$50 to Your Favorite Charity -- Or Think Tank

Speaking of surveys . . . Wilson Research Strategies, which works for Republican candidates and conservative groups, sent an e-mail to Hill aides saying it's asking "key Congressional staffers regarding energy issues and we'd like to get your opinions.

"The survey will only take about 10 minutes of your time, and to show our appreciation for your participation, WRS will donate $50 on your behalf to one of the following charities which you select: 1) American Cancer Society; 2) Brookings Institution; 3) Heritage Foundation; 4) National Military Family Association."

Brookings and Heritage have the same status as the American Cancer Society?

Oregon Forecast: Cold Winds From Alaska

"People who vote against this today are voting against me, and I will not forget it," Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said Wednesday, just before his effort to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling failed by only two votes.

When a senator as powerful as Stevens, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, says something like that, merely mortal senators get the shivers. And scuttlebutt has it that there are two senators who might want to invest in fur coats. These would be Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and especially Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.).

Word is there were 48 votes in the bag for Stevens, and he needed two more. Smith agreed to be the 50th, it appears, if there were 49. That sent Stevens working on Coleman, pushing hard on the need, in time of war, to have a secure oil supply and such. Coleman agreed to be 49. But then, to Stevens's dismay, Smith took a walk. So Coleman, with no 50th vote, also voted against drilling.

Worse yet, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, was on the Senate floor, greeting colleagues, waiting for a victory on drilling. He, too, was doubtless most unhappy with the outcome.

Oregon drivers may want to make sure they have good shock absorbers in the next few years.

Hardship Duty

Bad news for job-seekers. Another Rome-based opening has been filled. Former representative Eva Clayton, a North Carolina Democrat who retired this year after 10 years in the House, has been named assistant director-general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. The three-year assignment pays a bit over $100,000 a year.