The late-Friday news dump is a time-honored tradition in Washington.

While most of the country is making dinner reservations, checking tee times or making grocery lists for the weekend, government officials release news they’d rather brush under the rug, knowing that it will go relatively unnoticed and underreported.

Anecdotes aside, a recent study concludes that at least one agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, is statistically guilty of the practice — and that Bill Clinton’s administration was the worst offender in recent history.

The nonpartisan Resources for the Future, which researches environmental issues, analyzed more than 21,000 news releases issued by the EPA in the past 15 years, a time frame that spans the three most recent presidents. The group found that over the years, Friday releases were most common, as well as releases on holidays — the very times when they are least likely to be noticed.

The study hints that the EPA’s timing did not appear to be coincidental.

We’re shocked, simply shocked.

Notices of enforcement actions taken against companies violating environmental laws and regulations — i.e., damaging news that could hurt companies’ reputations and, more important, their bottom lines — were often released after the financial markets closed.

And while the Clinton-era EPA excelled at the art of the Friday dump, the White Houses of George W. Bush and Barack Obama were no slouches. The two are running neck and neck, though the researchers tell us they have relatively less data to go on from Obama’s EPA.

Those to-be-immortal words

Time is running out to enter In the Loop’s contest to identify Obama’s signature phrase. The deadline is Monday, so we’re extending a big thanks to the hundreds of readers who have submitted, and a warning to those who haven’t: You only have until Monday.

We’ve challenged readers to submit their ideas for what phrase the president will be known for (think Ronald Reagan’s “Tear down this wall” or JFK’s “Ask not”).

And please don’t forget that this contest is a two-parter: The first part is the question of which phrase Obama has already said, preferably since the inauguration, that is likely to stick around. The second part asks what he should say that history might remember. (You can enter one or both.)

We’ve had fewer entries for the second part than the first (hint: your chances of winning the second part are far greater). So play armchair speechwriter and dream up some soaring oratory.

You’ll find all the details at, and remember: If we get multiple submissions for the same line, the first one we got will be the winner. And as if the glory of a Loop contest win isn’t motivation enough, there’s another prize: a coveted Loop T-shirt.

The war on Christmas

The holidays are upon us, and federal employees will be heading off to be with loved ones at various points during the season. Well, maybe not all federal employees.

Seems some staffers at the Transportation Department recently found out they’ll probably be sticking close to home, working flat out to complete their reviews of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant applications.

More than 1,000 applications have come in from state and local governments for a piece of the $527 million available next year for road, bridge, rail and other infrastructure projects.

Review teams — some 80 people in all — will select about 50 projects to share the cash. The team had expected the review process to be completed in early February.

But Secretary Ray LaHood, hoping to get the money out as quickly as possible, decreed at the end of October that he wants to announce the winners by Dec. 31 and get that money out fast.

A good idea. But it also means the reviewers could be busy through much of the season.

Some will probably even miss out on the traditional sneak-away-from-the-desk shopping.

However, we’re hearing that DOT is trying to make accommodations for those who already have travel plans.

The land of the free junk

The Obama executive ord er Wednesday requiring federal agencies to cut expenses for travel, equipment, vehicles and government-issued swag has sent federal officials scurrying to storerooms to see how long existing supplies can last.

Most all agencies give out mountains of mouse pads, pens, pads, binder clips, stress balls, baseball caps, T-shirts, tote bags and such at meetings and conferences.

But there’s no reason to panic over the order.

First, we’re told some agencies have warehoused years of swag — which Obama delicately called “extraneous promotional items” — to give out. This would include, he said, “plaques, clothing and commemorative items.”

In addition, the order calls for overall cuts in travel, equipment and other expenditures “combined” of “not less than 20 percent.” So cuts in one category may offset the need to forgo those fine sweatshirts.

A key factor, in addition to the amassed inventory, will be, as one wag put it, the “inventory depletion rate.”

That rate doubtless will be slowed by the order’s restrictions on employee travel, since less travel translates to fewer big conferences in places like Orlando or Las Vegas — the key swag-distribution centers.

Prudent trims on the junk pushed out at each gathering — trims that would hardly be noticed — will also cut the rate.

The swag cutback, unlike what the GOP styles as Obama’s “job-killing” regulations, will have virtually no effect on American jobs. That’s because most all of this stuff, even down to our official CIA baseball cap, is made in China.

With Emily Heil