- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Go figure

An intriguing four-page memo, addressed to “Democratic House Members and Staff” and prepared by the political law and lobbying group Perkins Coie in Washington, educates congressmen on new congressional gift rules the lawmakers just wrote.

“The new Congress has made significant changes to the rules governing the acceptance of gifts and travel by members, officers and employees of the House,” Democrats are told in the memo, signed by eight of the firm’s political lawyers.

The memo reminds Democrats that new rules they’ve approved prohibit them from accepting “any gift (including a meal, a ticket to a concert or a sporting event, or any other thing) that exceeds $49.99 in value.”

As for members getting cozy with said lobbyists, Perkins Coie warns that the new rules also prohibit “accepting travel expenses for any trip of any length during which he or she would be accompanied by a lobbyist or foreign agent.”

Finally, the firm points to the new prohibition on the use of corporate airplanes for official and campaign travel. Effective immediately, the memo states, a member may travel “only on a commercial plane or an airplane licensed by the FAA for charter flight.”

“We will keep you informed of this new guidance, any additional rules changes, and any other ethics-related developments as they occur,” the missive assures.

That said, we’ve been unable to confirm whether Perkins Coie has been retained by the Democratic leadership, and if so, to what extent. However, one lobbying specialist we spoke with finds it amusing that “we have a lobbyist telling Democratic members and staff what is legally acceptable when dealing with lobbyists.”

Perkins Coie’s managing partner in Washington, John M. Devaney, told Inside the Beltway he wasn’t familiar with the memo. He directed us to the firm’s political wing, which did not return repeated phone calls.

Pair of parties

According to our invitation, there will be some “very special guests” at tomorrow night’s book party for former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe at the Park Hyatt in Washington.

Mr. McAuliffe’s new 416-page book has a monster of a title: “What a Party! My Life Among Democrats — Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators and Other Wild Animals.”

As for one in the latter category, former President Bill Clinton praises the book, writing on its jacket: “I thought I knew Terry McAuliffe as well as anyone, but this time he surprised even me. Who knew Terry could sit still long enough to give us a book this good?”

Mr. Clinton went on to say the book is a must-read for everybody who knows “that laughter is often the best survival strategy.” Hmmm.

Speaking of Mr. Clinton, he’ll be hosting a book party at the Russian Tea Room in New York City on Feb. 15 to celebrate the publication of “Love in Black and White: A Memoir of Race, Religion and Romance,” by former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and his journalist wife, Janet Langhart Cohen.

More on that affair in a later column.

Arabic disadvantage

Could the U.S. population’s foreign-language shortfalls prove deadly?

Consider that the FBI’s backlog of untranslated audio counterterrorism materials nearly doubled from 2004 to 2005 to more than 8,000 hours, according to the FBI’s inspector general.

The Partnership for Public Service (PPS), which works to revitalize the federal government, reports that the U.S. government has a shortage of employees with foreign-language skills in Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Russian, Farsi and Pashto, all of which “are critical to the government’s ability to operate effectively in today’s global environment.”

“Failure to identify and fill the needs in this regard will have tremendous negative repercussions,” the PPS warned in a briefing paper.

That said, while the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2006 that foreign-language shortfalls among Americans “persist despite initiatives to address the gaps,” there may be hope on the horizon.

The National Foreign Language Coordination Act of 2007 was introduced in recent days by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat, and Rep. Brian Baird, Washington Democrat, to address the lack of federal work force foreign-language skills.

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin @washingtontimes.com.

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