- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2000

The dean retires

Helen Thomas, the White House correspondent for United Press International for nearly 40 years, retired yesterday, a day after UPI was sold for the fourth time in two decades. She got a salute from President Clinton, the eighth president she had covered.
"United Press International is a great news agency," she said. "It has made a remarkable mark in the annals of American journalism and has left a superb legacy for future journalists. I wish the new owners all the best, great stories, and happy landings."
UPI was sold Monday to News World Communications Inc., publishers of The Washington Times and other publications, by a consortium of Saudi Arabian investors that had bought it in 1992 for about $4 million.
"Presidents come and go," Mr. Clinton said yesterday at the beginning of a ceremony in the Rose Garden, "but Helen's been here for 40 years now, covering eight presidents and doubtless showing the ropes to countless young reporters and, I might add, more than a few press secretaries.
"Whatever she decides to do, I'll feel a little better about my country if I know she'll still be spending some time around here at the White House. After all, without her saying, 'Thank you, Mr. President,' at least some of us might never have ended our news conferences."
Miss Thomas, a fixture at the White House since the Kennedy administration, was the dean of the White House correspondents, known for her terse, tough questions of presidents, often asking "hardball" questions more timid reporters are reluctant to ask.
The daughter of Lebanese immigrants, Miss Thomas was born in Lexington, Ky., in 1920. She received a bachelor's degree in English from Wayne University in 1942 and came to Washington to work for United Press for $24 a week. She was named UPI's chief White House correspondent in 1970.

Still snowing

The blinding blizzard that buried the nation's capital beneath thigh-high snowdrifts in January still hasn't melted around the desk of Janice R. Lachance, director of the Office of Personnel Management, who was in Iowa campaigning for Vice President Al Gore when the storm struck.
Ms. Lachance waited until 7 a.m. on Jan. 25 long after many bureaucrats left home to begin the dangerous commute to Washington to close the federal government.
Now Inside the Beltway learns that all Inspectors General throughout the federal government have been directed to review the travel of all department heads including Cabinet officials for any violations of responsibility associated with political activities.
"Political appointees in my department are of course 'overjoyed' to be under this added congressional scrutiny during the campaign season," a bureaucrat working beneath one Cabinet head tells this column.
The IG's travel probe directive was issued by Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. The directive, a copy of which we obtained yesterday, states:
"Although such activity may appear to be legal, I am concerned that political campaigning may interfere or take time away from the jobs which these employees are paid to do."
Mr. Thompson requested that each IG provide the committee with:
Policy and guidelines regarding political activity by officials.
Existing process to review claims for official travel.
Policy regarding combining official travel with personal or political travel.
Number of trips taken by officials involving a mix of official and personal or political travel.
Whether any staff, including advance personnel, have accompanied political appointees on travel involving political components.
Systems in place to ensure employees are abiding by the Hatch Act.
Amount of time presidential appointees confirmed by the Senate spent campaigning over the last two years.
In addition, Mr. Thompson requested that each inspector general provide periodic updates every 60 days through the end of 2000 (why the chairman didn't just say through Nov. 7, Election Day, is anybody's guess).

No longer silent

It's been 26 years since Richard Milhous Nixon, his political career tarnished by the Watergate scandal, resigned as the 37th president of the United States, and 25 years since the founding of the Nixon "alumni group."
Tonight, some 200 members of the tight-knit Nixon circle, who gather annually for a private dinner, will hear from the statesman who delivered a memorable eulogy at Mr. Nixon's 1994 funeral, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas.
"The second half of the 20th Century will be known as the age of Nixon," Mr. Dole said in the eulogy. "To tens of millions of his countrymen, Richard Nixon was an American hero, a hero who shared and honored their belief in working hard, worshiping God, loving their families and saluting the flag. He called them 'the silent majority.' "
Mr. Dole will be introduced by Tricia Nixon Cox, the late president's daughter, who we're told will speak about both her father and mother, the late Pat Nixon.
This is the first year the black-tie affair has been open to the media, the decision to do so made only on Friday.

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