- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) — Capital Comment — Daily news notes, political rumors, and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.

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You do the math …

In what some suggest is a sure sign that war with Iraq will come sooner rather than later, the United States government placed orders Monday for $130 million worth of MRE's — meals ready to eat, a staple for U.S. troops in the field.

According to a release from the United States Department of Defense, AmeriQual Group of Evansville, Ind., has been awarded a $47 million contract to produce ready-to-eat meals for all U.S. armed services. The contract has a completion date of May 17, 2003. A source familiar with the operation says that translates into the production of 1,025,618 MRE's over the next four months, meaning the company will go to two shifts per day, seven days per week.

The Wornick Co. of McAllen, Texas, and SOPAKCO Packaging of Mullins, S.C., also received contracts to produce MRE's that have April 30, 2003, as the completion date. Wornick is reportedly being paid $47 million while SOPAKCO is getting $35 million for their work. All three contracts were placed through the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia.

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What would Jefferson do?

A group of liberal religious and civil rights leaders plan to gather on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial Thursday to mark the 10th anniversary of Religious Freedom Day. Participants in the ceremony will speak to specific legislative issues that may come up during the 108th Congress to the detriment of religious liberty as they understand it.

Expected to make some remarks are the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance; the American Civil Liberties Union's Chris Anders; and Brenda Girton-Mitchell of the Washington office of the National Council of the Churches of Christ, USA.

National Religious Freedom Day commemorates the adoption of Jefferson's landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on Jan. 16, 1786. First proclaimed by President George H.W. Bush in 1993, National Religious Freedom Day is recognized across the United States as a day of thanksgiving for our nation's freedom of religion.

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Oversight under scrutiny …

There is still no response from the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee or from its new chairman, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., about the allegations that committee staffers were cashiered en masse shortly after the moderate Davis replaced conservative U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., as chairman. But the rumors continue to fly.

According to one source, the mass termination is being called "The Thursday Night Massacre" because staffers were "told Thursday night to submit their resignation and vacate their desks by 5 p.m. Monday — even though they would be kept on the payroll through the end of January."

Efforts by Burton to get a better separation deal for his people failed, our source indicates, pointing out the irony of the situation. "If something like had been done by George W. Bush to a bunch of bureaucrats at the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) or HUD (the Department of Urban Development), Davis would have been the first one in line to lament the mistreatment of these federal government workers."

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Good will ambassadors …

Rumors are beginning to circulate that a number of Bush supporters holding high-profile ambassadorships will soon turn in the resignations. The reason — they need to come home and refurbish their Rolodexes so they are ready to take on the arduous task of raising funds for President George W. Bush's re-election campaign. Among those who could be headed home sooner rather than later are U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Nancy Brinker and U.S. Ambassador to France Howard Leach, who both raised prodigious amounts of money for Bush's 2000 campaign.

Richard J. Egan, the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, has already announced his intention to return home. Rumored to be at the top of the list of replacements is former Reagan and George H. W. Bush speechwriter Peggy Noonan, "as fine a daughter of the Emerald Isle as there is," according to one friend.

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Personnel notes …

The White House made a slew of appointments on Tuesday including the elevation of John Arthur Hammerschmidt of Arkansas, son of the former Republican representative, to a two-year term as vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board on which he is currently a member. … The president also announced his intention to appoint four people to be members of the Board of Trustees of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: Donald Garcia of California; Bruce Gelb of New York; Tamala Longaberger of Ohio; and David Metzner of New York, who will be designated vice chairman upon his confirmation. … Scholar and writer Howard Fienberg has joined the legislative staff of U.S. Rep. C. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., where he will handle energy and commerce issues.

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