A Catholic antiabortion group sharply questioned the propriety of John F. Kerry's sister, Peggy Kerry, giving a speech to "a campaign crowd of feminists" in Boston and telling them that, if elected, her brother would overturn various Bush policies -- such as barring funds for U.N. population control efforts.
Not surprising that she'd be campaigning for her brother, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute noted, but she "works for George W. Bush" as part of the U.S. mission to the United Nations.
The institute, a nonprofit that works with the United Nations, acknowledged that Kerry, a career civil servant, broke no law in giving the speech, but it questioned how she can represent Bush's policies if she's bashing them.
"At one time, career civil servants, like Kerry, were forbidden to make campaign appearances," the group said, "though that has now changed. What is not yet clear is whether Kerry violated any internal State Department guidelines."
The answer appears to be no.
"In February, Ms. Kerry sought advice from the department on engaging in political activities and received guidance," State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli said. "As a career employee she may take an active part" in her brother's campaign, he said. But she can't do so during work hours, and she can't solicit contributions at work.
"As for the speech," he said, "we did not have advance notice of her remarks. . . . We will probably remind her as we would any employee [that] if you're going to speak on a matter related to your professional duties, you run it by your supervisor."
But that doesn't mean that what one says has to be cleared. "It's a First Amendment issue," Ereli said. "You're not prevented from expressing a personal view. You need to make a disclaimer" -- something about these remarks reflecting the view of the speaker and not the department -- "and give a heads-up." In this case, a heads-up means perhaps sending an e-mail, to get a green light. "There's not much basis for a red light," Ereli said.
This is "kind of an exceptional case," he added. "She is the equivalent of a GS-12," a very mid-level federal employee, "whose brother is running for president of the United States."
The institute said Kerry was a Clinton political appointee whose "job was made permanent in the early days of the Bush administration."
According to Ereli, however, Kerry joined the U.S.-U.N. shop in 1997 as a civil servant in a temporary position and then competed for and got a permanent position in September 2001.
Meanwhile, it seems there's no love lost between Kerry and the institute. "Kerry is best known for booking the U.N. press office on behalf of Catholics for a Free Choice when they announced their campaign to throw the Catholic Church out of the U.N.," the institute said.
Trees vs. Forests
Federal workers have been maligned in recent years as people who, unlike folks in the private sector, just put in their time, collect their paychecks and could care less about the public good or the issues they're paid to handle.
But a nasty fight brewing between retirees of two agencies, the National Park Service and the Forest Service, shows that, far from not caring, they are still waging war over the issues they used to work on -- even now, when they're supposed to be whittlin' and fishin'.
By way of background, the two agencies have very different cultures and missions. The Forest Service, part of the Department of Agriculture, has always been about balancing nature with commercial interests -- mining, timber and recreation -- on the lands it oversees.
The Park Service, part of the Interior Department, is much more focused on keeping the parks pristine and worries about environmental degradation on its turf. To some Park Service types, the Forest Service is a thinly veiled no-tree-left-behind organization.
So the Coalition of Concerned National Park Service Retirees last month sent out an "Urgent, Help Needed" e-mail over concerns that the Bush administration's proposed policies on roadless areas in national forests would harm a number of adjacent parks, including Yosemite, Yellowstone and Grand Canyon.
"We are looking for any of you who have worked in these areas . . . who would be willing to" provide some "anecdotal evidence" to back up a report the retiree group was working on with other enviros.
This got the National Association of Forest Service Retirees riled up. "Well, it looks like our National Park Service retiree colleagues have gone over to the dark side of political activism by mounting a reaction to the newly announced" roadless rule, Dick Pfilf, executive director of the Forest Service retirees group, wrote in a July 21 e-mail to his members.
NAFSR doesn't have a position on the proposal, which involves "complex matters," he wrote. He accused the NPS retirees of backing a move "to politicize land uses on national forests."
They wouldn't like it if Forest Service retirees butted in on national parks issues, Pfilf added. "They shouldn't be allowed to get away with that. We are taking steps to participate in several 'hearings' (Denver, Albuquerque and Tucson) the coalition means to conduct on the subject. Let us know if you can and want to help."