The passage of the Pendleton Act some 120 years ago heralded a shining moment for government workers. No more political hacks and ne'er-do-wells in federal jobs. No, there would now be a nonpartisan, merit-based civil service, a trained corps of workers who would do their duty no matter which party occupied the White House.

Cut to 2004. The Office of Personnel Management, the keeper of that noble flame, is holding a big conference this week in Baltimore for its staff and other interested folks to talk about civil service reform, homeland security and other major issues.

OPM officials will doubtless use slide presentations to enhance the learning process. We can only hope they strictly adhere to the instructions recently issued by OPM's division of human resources products and services.

"If you are preparing a slide show," the HRPS guidance says, "your presentation must, at a minimum, include the following:

* "President's Presence: The President's presence needs to be prevalent on all materials for presentation. 'Presence' could mean quote, letter, etc., but it must be relevant to the subject matter. You can visit for material.

* "President's Picture: The President's picture needs to be included on all presentation materials. The easiest way to get this is to go to the OPM website . . . and copy and paste his photograph . . .

* "Director's Presence": Same as for the president, but rather than the White House Web site, "you can check out brochures that we have in which" Director Kay Coles James "is quoted, letters she has signed, etc."

* "Director's Picture": Unlike any old picture of the president, the guidance requires that "the most recent picture" be included. (It really is quite nice.) Folks must use covers, posters and such "that meet OPM branding standards," and don't forget to use the proper OPM logo.

Just to make sure you haven't screwed this up, "once your presentation is fully prepared, it must be approved. Please route through your Deputy Associate Director (DAD) to the Associate Director, then to Office of Communications (OC). If it needs further approval, OC will forward to the appropriate office. Please allow at least one week for the review process once it leaves your Deputy Associate Director's office."

Sen. George H. Pendleton (D-Ohio) would have been pleased.

Lesson Learned?

Meanwhile, some eyebrows were raised last week at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, part of the National Defense University, when this e-mail from retired Navy Capt. Phil Kasky, dean of students and chief of staff, floated by.

"Just in case you are interested . . . and I hope you are. The Kerry campaign claims that over 200,000 veterans have signed up on the Kerry campaign web site supporting his run for the presidency.

"There is a web site Vets4Bush. There are only 48,000 veterans that have signed up on the site. It is sponsored by Bob Dole and Ollie North and several Flag officers.

"Please take a look at the web site and make your own decision on signing up. The sign up link is at the top of the page, centered. If you are not a vet but know some, please forward this to them."

Asked whether this e-mail, which appeared to be addressed to all 90 ICAF faculty, was appropriate, NDU spokesman Dave Thomas said Kasky did not write it and was only forwarding an e-mail he had received. Kasky recalled forwarding the e-mail to only six faculty members for "academic reasons" so it could be used in classroom discussions on the importance of veterans in the political process.

Thomas called later to say that Kasky checked and saw he sent the e-mail to 29 faculty members. How they were supposed to know to use it in class seems unclear.

Fact or Fiction?

The Bush campaign announced its debate negotiations team on Tuesday and, in a news release, gave brief bios of the members. So for Karen Hughes we learn she was communications director for both of President Bush's gubernatorial campaigns as well as when he was in the governor's office. Then it says that she "recently completed a book tour for her first novel, 'Ten Minutes from Normal' and is currently traveling full time with President Bush."

"Novel?" Wait a minute! We thought that stuff was real. The Democrats often accuse her of writing fiction, but now even the Bush campaign?

This Just In . . .

Costa Rica's highest court has ruled that the country cannot be listed by the United States as part of the grand "Coalition of the Willing" in the Iraq war, the Associated Press reported yesterday, and Costa Rican officials are demanding the country be taken off the list.

Foreign Minister Roberto Tovar said his government would send a letter to Washington to get off the list. Costa Rica never sent any troops to Iraq because, well, it has no troops. But Tovar and President Abel Pacheco signed a statement of support for the United States on March 19, 2003, on the eve of the invasion, which is why Costa Rica got on the list.

Now they insist it was support just for the war against terrorism, not for the invasion of Iraq. Haven't they heard? It's all the same.