- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

Heated seats

State Department Inspector General Clark Kent Ervin has been asked to investigate his department's attempt to purchase a 2002 special edition Jeep Grand Cherokee and have it loaded with lots of luxurious extras, including heated leather power seats, 10-disc CD player with six Infinity speakers and a leather-and-wood tilt steering wheel "with remote stereo controls."

This column first broke the story on July 31, the day after we obtained a State Department procurement sheet stating the vehicle was "urgently required" for export to the Narcotics Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Columbia.

The same day our story appeared, the State Department withdrew its request for the vehicle.

In a letter to the inspector general last week, a copy of which was sent to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, House Government Reform Chairman Dan Burton wrote that "several aspects of this procurement appear to be unusual, meriting an investigation by your office."

"First, the bid solicitation called for an unusual and perhaps unnecessary list of features to be included in the vehicle," said the Indiana Republican's letter. "Second, the solicitation contained an unusually short response time. Potential bidders were given only six days to respond, when a 15-day or 30-day response period would have been more customary.

"In fact, the solicitation, which was labeled 'urgent,' was posted on a Friday and bids were due on the following Thursday, leaving only four business days to complete the bid.

"Third, the day that this procurement was publicized in the press, it was canceled. On July 31, The Washington Times published an article detailing this solicitation. Later that same day, the solicitation was canceled."

Mr. Burton requested the IG resolve a number of questions, including who presented the request to the procurement officer, were any bids received, was there an urgent need for the vehicle, was the short response time justified, was there a legitimate need for the luxurious features, and why was the bid solicitation canceled?

Share the horror

At a time when the Securities and Exchange Commission is weighing a probe of former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin's relationship with the bankrupt Enron Corp., the Democratic National Committee is asking former Enron employees to share their stories about how corporate "irresponsibility" stole their savings.

"When Enron went bankrupt, sending its stock plummeting, thousands of employees lost their life savings because their pensions were tied up almost exclusively in Enron stock," the DNC writes to Enron's former employees, among others. "The futures of millions of hardworking families are at risk thanks to the irresponsibility of corporate executives.

"Democrats are working hard to protect your family, but we need your help. If you have suffered losses in your pension, retirement funds, or life savings because of corporate irresponsibility or fraud, please share your story with us today."

Mr. Rubin left the Clinton administration in 1999 and is now chairman of the executive committee of Citigroup, a bank that lent millions of dollars to Houston-based Enron. When Enron teetered toward collapse, Mr. Rubin picked up the telephone and called the Treasury Department, seeking intervention on Enron's behalf.

"Apart from the questionable propriety of a former Treasury secretary trying to solicit financial favors from former colleagues at a department he once led, I would ask that you investigate all [Enron stock] trades submitted by Citigroup and/or its subsidiaries and their clients in the two weeks preceding Mr. Rubin's call to [Treasury] as well as the two weeks following the call," read a letter written by Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, one of the House Republican leaders who has called for the SEC to investigate of Mr. Rubin.

Who needs satire?

Reading a few of the more outrageous news stories of recent days, Ann Sheridan, one of Washington's political observers, writes:

"Relative to the Naval Academy's recent decision that midshippersons should not be yelled at during their plebe year because their feelings could be hurt, combined with the Defense Advisory Committee On Women in the Services having recommended that future submarines should include female crew members, allow me to invoke the spirit of George Orwell's statement that there are 'Spectacles before which Satire herself stands mute,' and suggest a possible scenario for that event when it finally occurs.

"Headline: New Ship Launched: The USS UNISEX, latest addition to the U.S. Submarine fleet, was commissioned in Norfolk, Va., amid protests from thousands of wives, husbands, children, veterans, recruiters and family counselors. Members of the Divorce Lawyers Association of America, although not part of the demonstration, were seen to be distributing their cards to the assembled.

"In a departure from tradition, former President Clinton's face had been painted on the bow of the submarine, and as Sen. Hillary Rodham, New York Democrat, swung the bottle of champagne toward the hull, she slipped and her husband's image took a direct hit. A roar of approval rose from the protesters.

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