Folks at the National Park Service were buzzing this week over an effort to have the superintendents of the national parks lobby Congress on a bill that funds improvements in roads and bridges in the park system.
Apparently, some of the nearly 400 superintendents -- all of whom are career employees -- were unhappy with a June 4 "Dear Superintendent" letter from Jeffrey K. Taylor of the NPS legislative and congressional affairs office here.
"As you may or may not know, the Highway Re-Authorization Bill (SAFETEA) will be coming up in conference, possibly within the next week," Taylor wrote. "I ask you to call your Congressman and have he or she urge" House members from "your state to strip the section, marked on the attachment, from the bill." (The section involves a formula for allocating the money.)
Apparently some superintendents didn't feel they should be lobbying Congress. A conference call was arranged Monday afternoon with NPS Deputy Director Donald W. Murphy.
We all know how sensitive Murphy is about employees' lobbying Congress. NPS officials quickly suspended -- and are trying to fire -- U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa C. Chambers in part for violating a federal rule against using her position to lobby Congress.
Chambers's "lobbying" consisted of talking to The Washington Post about budget shortfalls and staffing shortages. Murphy said a federal rule bars an official in her position from such "lobbying."
In a follow-up letter to the superintendents on Tuesday, Murphy recapped the conference call.
"As I stated in the conference call," Murphy said, "I apologize for any confusion created by [Taylor's] letter regarding the role superintendents should play regarding the passage of legislation." But, he said, "both the NPS and [Interior] Department solicitor's offices confirmed that the June 4th letter requesting you to contact your House member regarding the [bill] was legal and does not fall within the lobbying restrictions" of the federal anti-lobbying law.
"However, it remains our policy and practice not to engage in this type of activity irrespective of its legality," he said, and Headquarters was going to take care of the lobbying. "Therefore, please disregard the June 4th letter . . . and do not contact your individual House member regarding the Department's position on the SAFETEA bill."
So maybe if Chambers had gone up to the Hill and "urged" House members to increase her budget -- instead of talking to the press -- she would not have been in such violation of that rule.
Right Story, Wrong Name
Where does the press come up with that stuff? CNN's legendary Larry King interviewed former president George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, Wednesday and asked them about a story in the New York Times that Mrs. Bush wanted Donald T. Regan, President Ronald Reagan's chief of staff, fired. Mrs. Bush quite rightly denounced that as inaccurate.
Actually, the Times article was about then-Vice President Bush, not his wife.
"What they had in there was totally inaccurate in terms of fact," said Bush I, who noted that he had seen the article.
"Where does a story like that come from, then?" King asked.
Where indeed? As the Times pointed out, this one came from a book called "My Turn," Nancy Reagan's autobiography, in which she talks of Bush's telling her that Regan should be axed.
She told Bush she agreed and asked him to tell her husband.
"Nancy," he said, "that's not my role."
"That's exactly your role," Mrs. Reagan replied, according to her book. "But as far as I know, George Bush never spoke to Ronnie about Don Regan."
Bush told King that he did in fact talk to Regan about leaving, but only after the president asked him to.
Republicans Who Rate
Amidst the outpourings of grief, these have been days of highest anxiety, bordering on panic, we hear, for some Washington Republicans. The worry? Would they get an invitation to the funeral at the National Cathedral today.
There would be only about 1,000 tickets left (including spouses) for Nancy Reagan to send out after about 3,000 went to lawmakers, diplomats and other official folks.
First, there was the concern over whether the fax would come telling them there would be an invite.
Then, the worry that maybe there would be a mix-up, or the fax would be inaccurate and the invitation wouldn't come through.
And yesterday, trembling hands all over Washington slowly turned over the invitations to see the color of the little mark on the back.
That's how they would know if they rated primo spots or had been relegated to the cheap seats in back.
Next time, Montana Rep. Dennis Rehberg might follow the lead of a fellow Montana Republican, Sen. Conrad Burns. During their visit to Kazakhstan over Memorial Day weekend, their hosts invited them for a little horseback ride in the mountains after dinner. Burns demurred.
But Rehberg, a rancher among other things, accepted, despite having had a few vodka toasts at dinner. As his office explains it, Rehberg is used to Western saddles with pommels, but Kazakh saddles don't have those. So Rehberg had trouble dismounting and ended up on his rear. A nearby horse startled.
Result: one broken rib, a few others bruised and an extra couple days in Kazakhstan.