No word yet at the National Association of Manufacturers on who was behind a bizarre incident there that has acquired the title "Poopgate."

Seems hard-charging NAM chief lobbyist and political director Fred Nichols has made some enemies over the years -- and not just among Democrats. Someone, apparently one of his colleagues, dropped a pile of excrement on the floor in front of his office door in August. The delivery was recorded by hallway video cameras.

Top officials were not amused. Experts were brought in to nab the culprit but for naught. "It was taken seriously," a senior NAM official said. "We tried to find out what happened." The matter was "professionally looked into, [they] looked at cameras, and it was inconclusive," he said.

Then, more recently, about 100 current and former NAM staffers were said to have been annoyed, perhaps offended, by an overly long comedy routine Nichols and colleague David Kralik did at a sendoff for retiring NAM president Jerry Jasinowski.

The focus was on Jasinowski's travels to China. The routine, a takeoff on the Abbott and Costello classic "Who's on First," was: "Wu's on First, Wen's on Second, Chao's on Third." It didn't, we were told, go over well. The senior NAM official said he didn't think anyone was offended, but allowed, "It went on a little long."

Apparently Nichols's enemies are hoping the incoming NAM president, former Michigan governor John Engler, might discipline him or restructure his job.

Not gonna happen, the senior NAM official said. Nichols's job is not in any jeopardy. If caught, though, the prankster could be in deep trouble.

Pick the Winner by Friday

Don't forget to enter the Loop's quadrennial Pick the President Contest.

Simply predict the winning candidate and the number of electoral votes he will receive. The first 20 entrants with the correct candidate and number of electoral votes will win a highly coveted In the Loop T-shirt and lifetime bragging rights.

All entries must include home, work or cell phone numbers. As always, Hill and administration aides may submit entries "on background." Send entries via e-mail to or mail to In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

Deadline is midnight Friday. Don't delay. Good luck.

Dust-Up at the Transportation Safety Board

Meanwhile, there are signs of hope that the usually -- with some historic exceptions -- collegial National Transportation Safety Board might iron out what looks to some to be nasty fighting among its five members.

In August, three members of the much-praised, independent, accident-investigation agency -- two Democrats and one Republican -- wrote an extraordinary four-page, single-spaced letter to chairman Ellen Engleman Conners outlining their concerns.

The letter, translated by NTSB sources into regular English, essentially accuses Engleman Conners, appointed by President Bush 19 months ago, of, among many other things, trying to run roughshod over them, not keeping them informed of congressional communications, letting the White House have too much say over their staff hiring and apparently interfering with their talking to the media.

Some sources said things got off on a wrong foot early when Engleman Conners put up pictures of Bush and Vice President Cheney outside her office. Others say the problem is the chairman often likes to telecommute from an NTSB office in Leesburg, nearer her home.

This might explain the letter's odd note that the "NTSB Boardroom was expressly designed for hearings . . . and is conveniently located at NTSB headquarters" in L'Enfant Plaza, the trio said. "We would like to encourage use of the NTSB Boardroom whenever possible for the public work of the board."

Engleman Conners replied a week later, saying she'd meet with the trio only individually. The members wrote back Sept. 3 saying they should all meet at NTSB headquarters Sept. 7. After that, a board spokesman issued a statement saying, "The chairman hopes that board members will continue to focus on the important mission of the board rather than on bureaucratic distractions."

Several weeks ago, Engleman Conners sent a private memo to board members, according to an account in the International Herald Tribune, saying everything had been resolved. "As to your concerns that issues that you raised are not being addressed, you are incorrect," she wrote.

The good news is the board met last week, we're told, and members are circulating "board orders," meaning new administrative procedures, which, if approved, might lower the temperature a bit. Or maybe not.

Second Time Around for Robertson

The Rev. Pat Robertson's recent statement on CNN that President Bush dismissed his prewar warning about heavy casualties in Iraq, saying, "We're not going to have any casualties," became a big campaign issue last week.

Yet, curiously, this is not the first time Robertson, a strong Bush supporter, has said this. In June, he said on MSNBC's "Hardball" that "I knew it was going to be trouble. I warned the president. . . . I said, 'You better prepare the American people for some serious casualties.' And he said, 'Oh, no, our troops are, you know, so well protected, we don't have to worry about that.' "

There's June, and then there's just before the election.