- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2001

Nasty and brutish

Don't blame President Bush for taking so long to fill key vacancies in his administration.

Instead, says one observer of the presidential appointments process, blame proliferating bureaucratic forms, FBI background checks that grow ever more intrusive, and financial disclosure that becomes a grueling exercise requiring days of consultation with accountants and attorneys a system configured as "nasty and brutish without being short."

"Unless there is some reason for discouraging talented Americans from accepting the call to service, or creating a headless government in which offices linger vacant month after month, it is time for reform," says Paul C. Light, senior adviser to the Presidential Appointee Initiative, a project of the Brookings Institution and Pew Charitable Trusts.

"It's hard to imagine a process for recruiting presidential appointees that could be more confusing, embarrassing and frustrating than Congress and the president have created over the past few decades," he says.

Mr. Light's panel is calling on Congress and the White House to undertake 11 recommendations in order to fix the system, among them:

• Reducing the number of positions requiring full FBI investigations.

• Reducing the number of positions requiring Senate confirmation.

• Requiring Senate confirmation votes within 45 days.

• Reducing the number and layers of political appointments by one-third.

• Simplifying and standardizing the information-gathering forms used in the presidential appointments process.

Last Thursday, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, headed by Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican, took an in-depth look at the deteriorating state of the appointment process, and promised help was on the way.

No apology

"My, my, my. Where are all the accusers? Where are all the finger-pointers to say, 'Well, gee whiz, I was wrong, it looks like Mr. Bush is the legitimate president of the United States'? "

So asks Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, after not hearing a single retraction upon discovery last week that George W. Bush would have won Florida if a recount had gone forward as ordered by the state Supreme Court.

Not hostages

Speaking of not apologizing, how are the 24 detained Americans coping with their unscheduled landing and detentions in China?

If they're following "Hostage Situation" procedures obtained by this column, issued by the Security Awareness Office of the National Security Agency, a branch of the Department of Defense, here's how:

• Comply with orders and instructions without complaining. Keep in mind what you say and do could have an impact on others.

• Be as general as possible if questioned and do not discuss anything that you are obligated to protect.

• Be non-threatening in conversations with your captors and avoid arguments and physical violence.

• Prepare yourself for experiencing depression, boredom and frustration since a hostage situation may continue for an indefinite period.

• Try to humanize the event as much as possible. If you need anything, ask for it, making your request in a reasonable low-key manner.

• Try to establish a program of mental and physical activity if your situation becomes lengthy and drawn out.

• Above all, rely on your inner resources and think positively.

Incumbent protection

Arkansas' 2nd Congressional District lies in central Arkansas, home of the state capital, Little Rock.

In 1994, Arkansas Republican Bill Powell unsuccessfully ran against the district's Democratic incumbent, Rep. Ray Thornton, who easily won 57 percent of the vote.

Still living in Arkansas, Mr. Powell writes Inside the Beltway about last week's approval by the Senate of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill.

"As one who once entered the political arena, I am greatly puzzled as to why the public is simply not let in on the way political campaigns are financed," Mr. Powell says. "Only the most idealistic among us would deny that as long as the rules of the game favor the incumbents there will be ritual tap dancing on both sides of the aisle over the make-up of those rules.

"The older I get and the farther I get from Washington the clearer it becomes there is only one party that counts the incumbent party."

Kennedy to Kennedy

What better school than Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, to present his personal "Reflections on Public Service" this afternoon.

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