- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Holy cow

The USO has gotten a bum rap from the General Accounting Office, United Service Organizations’ Senior Vice President John Hanson tells Inside the Beltway.

“When I saw that ‘USO’ was in the title of the [GAO] report, I had one of those ‘holy cow’ moments,” says Mr. Hanson, after the investigative arm of Congress highlighted roughly $433,000 in inappropriate expenses the USO purportedly charged to the Pentagon over a two-year period, including limousines, alcohol and first-class airplane tickets in conjunction with Jennifer Lopez and Kid Rock concerts.

“No one provided limousines for Jennifer Lopez,” he tells this column. “As far as we can tell … the limousines that [the Pentagon] paid for were really buses provided by a limousine service to take entertainers from a hotel to Andrews Air Force Base.”

Furthermore, he says, no alcohol was provided to entertainers.

“For the record, a USO producer bought some ‘thank you’ gifts — $57 worth of brandy, apparently — for some volunteers who helped with some shows in Asia a few years back,” says Mr. Hanson. “And, rest assured, once [the Pentagon] let us know we owed money for the upgrades in airfares for celebrities, we paid them.”

But there’s more to the story.

“The problem is that we did not charge any expenses to the Pentagon,” Mr. Hanson tells this column. “In this case, and it’s clear in the report, [the Pentagon] did not let us know the USO owed the money. Now they have, and we’ve paid.”

Mr. Hanson says one thing that stands out in the GAO report is that “the USO has been, and will remain, a good steward of any federal funds in its control.”

Crucial callers

One industry official predicts political fallout for the White House after the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday sided with former Bell companies Verizon, Bell South, SBC and Qwest to give states more authority to determine which companies can offer local phone service.

During an interview yesterday with Inside the Beltway, Voices for Choices spokesman Peter Arnold recalled that Congress recognized in the 1996 Telecommunications Act that the nation’s phone system had been built during decades of government-enforced monopoly.

“So it created a system enabling other companies to pay wholesale rates for access to the networks,” he says. “But here’s the interesting political fallout: The states most ‘at risk’ from [Tuesday’s] decision read like the White House’s ‘must-win’ list for this November.”

He cites Michigan’s 1.2 million phone users who have since shifted phone companies, 665,000 users in Pennsylvania, 584,000 in Ohio, 536,000 in Georgia, 217,000 in Missouri, and 262,000 in Minnesota.

“The Communications Workers of America (CWA) teamed with the Bells in suing the administration on this issue,” says Mr. Arnold. “The president will be in a tough spot if he backs away from fighting this decision. When the effect starts to bite in states like Michigan, Ohio and Missouri, the White House shouldn’t count on getting much support from Al Gore’s campaign manager and the CWA.”

He is referring to former Clinton commerce secretary and Gore campaign manager William Daley, who after the 2000 election was appointed president of industry giant SBC Communications, whose affiliates provide wire-line service to one-third of the U.S.

Bloody Hill

He serves on the post-September 11 Homeland Security Committee, but it was a terrorist assault on Capitol Hill a half-century ago that Rep. Dave Camp, Michigan Republican, remembers today.

Fifty years ago this week — on March 1, 1954 — four Puerto Rican nationals armed to the hilt entered the House gallery.

“As then-Speaker Joseph W. Martin Jr. concluded tallying the ‘aye’ votes on a Mexican immigrant-labor program, [the] Puerto Rican nationalists stood up and began waving a Puerto Rican flag and firing at the floor,” Mr. Camp recalls. “The terrorists eventually shot approximately 30 rounds before being apprehended.”

The most severely injured was Rep. Alvin M. Bentley, who represented Michigan communities Mr. Camp represents today. Others injured included Congressmen George H. Fallon of Maryland, Ben F. Jensen of Iowa, Kenneth A. Roberts of Alabama, and Clifford Davis of Tennessee.

Sorry to show

“I was supposed to be here a couple of months ago, and it was because of one of those telephone calls in the middle of the night that I didn’t make it. That was one that told us that, in fact, we had gotten Saddam Hussein,” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice recalled in her Reagan Lecture at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif.

“And Mrs. Reagan and I agreed that the only reason that I wouldn’t make it this time was if somehow we’d gotten Osama bin Laden. Unfortunately, I’m here.”

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or [email protected]

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