- The Washington Times - Friday, July 12, 2002

Mirror, mirror

State Department officials "crossed the line" by taking a disrespectful swing at Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, dean of the New York delegation, as he prepared to announce his retirement from Congress.

So charge more than 80 members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, in two letters this week to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

"We are extremely upset," almost the entire New York congressional delegation wrote in a separate letter to Mr. Powell, after reading in this column Wednesday that several State Department officials had viciously berated the 79-year-old veteran Republican lawmaker before his announcement.

"He will announce that he has discovered that he died back in 1992, but that no one noticed until now," wrote John H. Bargeron, of the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, in an e-mail that whizzed around the INL.

"I thought it was he had no brain like the Scarecrow," the INL's James A. Puleo shot back.

That and other State correspondence was obtained this week by Inside the Beltway.

"You know Ben," 25 New York lawmakers wrote to Mr. Powell. "He's a decorated veteran of World War II, a member of Congress for 30 years, and a longtime friend and mentor to many of us. Respect for him crosses party lines. He has been a strong supporter of the State Department, especially the INL the bureau where these strikingly offensive comments originated.

"You would think that non-elected officials would use a civil tongue. At a minimum, we hope the lack of respect shown toward Chairman Gilman is not indicative of a deeper problem with the State Department. This attitude does not reflect your style of leadership. We trust that you will address this situation personally and immediately with [Assistant Secretary] Rand Beers, John Bargeron and James Puleo.

"Perhaps the offenders might take a good look at themselves in the mirror," said the letter, signed by members that included Republican Reps. Amo Houghton and Jack Quinn and Democratic lawmakers Nita M. Lowey and Carolyn McCarthy.

A second letter, bearing an additional 60 congressional signatures, said the State officials "crossed the line and they need to be dealt with accordingly."

For starters, the State Department issued this statement yesterday: "The department regrets the unfortunate comments sent over the internal unclassified e-mail system by a couple of employees. These comments were obviously their personal opinions and certainly do not reflect the view of the Department of State or Assistant Secretary Rand Beers.

"The department and Assistant Secretary Beers have great respect for Congressman Gilman and recognize his many contributions to U.S. foreign policy over three decades, including his strong support for international counter-narcotics control programs."

Added security

Let's get this straight: a security task force will monitor the new Department of Homeland Security?

Sort of.

The new task force, impaneled by the Republican Study Committee, will ensure that the new department remains true to President Bush's vision of improved homeland security without creating a bloated new bureaucracy.

In other words, the task force and its chairman, Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, won't be monitoring homeland security as much as they will be monitoring Congress.

"Unfortunately, all too often, Congress has used similar 'overhauls' as an excuse to expand an already bloated federal bureaucracy and make unwarranted intrusions into the lives of citizens," Mr. Pence explains.

Speeding aliens

Talk about mixed-up laws: Aliens who are hiding in the United States illegally are legally sitting behind the wheels of cars.

That drives Arizona Republican Rep. Jeff Flake, a member of the Judiciary immigration, border security and claims subcommittee, up the wall. The congressman is renewing his call for a national policy tying the expiration date of driver's licenses for foreign nationals to the expiration date of their visas.

At a most recent House Judiciary Committee hearing on homeland security, Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge said his office was working with states to close the loophole. Some states, such as Mr. Flake's Arizona, already require that driver's licenses expire no later than a visa.

However, in most states, a driver's license can expire years after a foreign national's visa expires. With a valid driver's license, illegal aliens can rent a car, open a bank account, and perform countless other tasks that make their living in the United States illegally very simple.

I for an I

"I sounded quite good in that introduction. I might even vote for myself the next time."

European Parliament President Patrick Cox, after his National Press Club introduction in Washington this week.

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