So why did it seem so difficult last week to get anyone at the White House to answer the phone? Most likely it's because they were all reading the National Journal's listing of exactly what their colleagues are getting paid.
The magazine's Web site recorded 6,000 hits on the paycheck listing the first day it was posted, which is considered heavy volume. (Doubtless 99 percent of those hits came from within or very near 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.) The list showed that the highest-ranking -- those titled "assistant to the president," folks like Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and White House counsel Harriet Miers -- received the top pay of $161,000. The list reflects no flexibility. Thus press secretary Scott McClellan, who's out there getting hammered daily, gets no additional combat pay.
An eyebrow or two were raised that Barry S. Jackson, Rove's respected right-hand man, was at the third tier, or $133,000, instead of the second-level salary of $141,000 a year. Also, Susan Whitson, press secretary to first lady Laura Bush, is paid but $70,000, even though her boss is much more visible these days opining about Supreme Court choices, traveling the globe and so on.
The lowest salaries are $30,000.
My Way -- Your Money
Our nation's esteemed lawmakers, running out of existing bridges, airports, embassies and university centers to put their names on, have decided to make sure the plaques will be ready even before the pork is spent creating new ones.
For example, part of the massive, recently passed $286.5 billion transportation bill includes a $2 billion (total estimated cost) new bridge over a swamp near Anchorage that was pushed by House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska).
Then there's this: "SEC. 4411. DON YOUNG'S WAY: The Knik Arm bridge in Alaska to be planned, designed, and constructed . . . as high priority project number 2465 . . . is designated as 'Don Young's Way.' Any reference in law, map, regulation, document, paper, or other record of the United States to the bridge referred to in subsection (a) shall be deemed to be a reference to 'Don Young's Way.' ''
Regrets, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention . . .
Deputy Chief at FEMA -- or Maybe Not
Michael D. Brown, who runs the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the Department of Homeland Security, sent around a memo a couple of weeks ago saying "effective immediately," his chief of staff, Patrick Rhode, was the acting deputy director.
This caused some head-scratching, because there is no official deputy director position at FEMA, because there is no official director. The last person to hold such a post was Brown, before FEMA got folded into DHS. (Brown is now officially DHS undersecretary for emergency preparedness and response.)
A recent strategic review called for naming a deputy director, but Congress hasn't approved that plan and agencies don't usually go ahead without congressional blessing. Even more curious, it's not clear whether DHS or the White House, which approves such personnel moves, had signed off on Brown's move. FEMA says its general counsel approved the action.
Brown is widely expected to be leaving soon, and there has been some FEMA speculation that this is his way of trying to pave the way for a successor. Rhode had been associate administrator of the Small Business Administration.
Energy Adviser Needed
Resume alert! There's an opening on Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman's top advisory board. Bodman removed Randa Fahmy Hudome, who had been a senior international policy aide to then-Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.
Reuters reports that, while officials say the move was the result of a routine review, it appears Bodman was "not pleased to learn" that Fahmy Hudome was Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi's lobbyist in Washington. Most sanctions against Libya have been lifted, relations have much improved, but Libya's still on the terrorism list.
It's a non-paying board position, but Fahmy Hudome doesn't appear to be hurting for cash. Last year, she got an initial $1.47 million contract from Libya and signed a revised contract in March worth $750,000 for this year, Reuters reported.
Moving On and About
Major moves last week . . . Senate Armed Services Committee staff director Judith Ansley is leaving to become senior director for European matters at the National Security Council. Charles S. Abell, a former committee aide and a Vietnam veteran who has been most recently top deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel, is returning to be staff director.
As long anticipated, Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America Roger F. Noriega is stepping down for "personal reasons," officials said Friday, and going private in September. Likely replacement, naturally, is said to be another National Security Council senior director, Tom Shannon, who has been handling Latin America.
At the National Transportation Safety Board, Kathryn "Kitty" O. Higgins, a deputy secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, is the White House pick to replace outgoing Democratic board member Carol J. Carmody. The Air Line Pilots Association had strongly opposed Higgins, who was pushed by former Senate minority leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.).