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Inside the Beltway

- The Washington Times - Friday, May 29, 2009

EYE FOR AN EYE?

Don't look now, but certain bureaucrats carrying Uncle Sam's credit card in their wallets are back to spending your hard-earned taxpayer dollars on everything from first-class travel to Hawaii to laser eye surgery.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has obtained a new Congressional Research Service report detailing abuses in the federal government travel card program, costing taxpayers "millions of dollars annually."

The CRS report looked at Government Accountability Office and federal inspector general reports and found, among other improper or unauthorized charges, $3,700 for laser eye surgery; reimbursement of nearly $10,000 for tickets that an official never purchased; a charge for a first-class trip to Hawaii; and numerous upgrades to premium-class accommodations.

Even worse, federal agencies failed to recover millions of dollars in unused travel tickets. For example, the Department of Defense had $100 million in unused tickets from 1997 to 2003.

Noted Scott Amey, POGO's general counsel: "A private travel agency would be out of business running this kind of operation."

THERE GOES ED

Even discounting his tall stature, it's not difficult to spot President Bush's former counselor, Ed Gillespie, on the touristy streets of Old Town Alexandria. He's one of the few pedestrians who dresses in a dark suit every day.

Mr. Gillespie, a one-time chairman of the Republican National Committee, recently crossed the Potomac to launch Ed Gillespie Strategies on Prince Street, having previously partnered at one of K Street's more prominent lobby shops, Quinn Gillespie & Associates, with former Clinton White House counsel Jack Quinn.

Mr. Gillespie has made it clear his lobbying days are over. He's now concentrating on strategic planning, communications and, of course, politics, including helping to run the campaign of Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell.

HUG A POSTMAN

It's been one year since we've checked on the health of your mailman, and whether it's because of the depressed economy or more people sending e-mail instead of licking stamps, the U.S. Postal Service projects a mail volume decline of 10 percent to 12 percent in 2009, resulting in unprecedented losses.

According to the Government Accountability Office, the USPS this year faces a financial gap of about $12 billion (despite planned cost cuts of $5.9 billion), resulting in a "record annual loss" of more than $6 billion.

In addition, the postal service projects outstanding debt beyond the annual statutory limit of $3 billion, and an unprecedented $1.5 billion cash shortfall.

The year 2010 doesn't offer much hope - the service projects mail volume will decline by an additional 10 billion pieces, leading to financial losses similar to 2009's. Now being considered are layoffs, consolidating operations and closing unnecessary facilities.

SPEAKING OF WHICH ...

In other postal news, the mail service's designers have finally figured out how to get that ski-slope nose inside the frame and are releasing a new 44-cent stamp honoring famed comedian Bob Hope.

The stamp will be displayed at a ceremony Friday aboard the USS Midway in San Diego. Hope, who died at age 100 in 2003, was famous for entertaining American troops in war and peace around the world. He performed two shows on the Midway and entertained U.S. forces in conflicts ranging from World War II to the first Persian Gulf war.

"I think he would be thrilled, absolutely honored and love the thought of it," daughter Linda Hope told the Associated Press. "It would also be an opportunity for him to get in a few jokes about the rise in the cost of postage."

In announcing the award last November, the USPS noted that Hope, although he never served in the military, earned the nickname "GI Bob" for his work, and in 1997 became the first person recognized by Congress as an "honorary veteran of the U.S. armed forces." He also was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The postal service clearly sees a big demand - it has printed up 100 million Hope stamps and will begin selling them nationwide.

• John McCaslin can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@ washingtontimes .com.