- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A tiny White House commission has spent the past five years and $1.5 million trying to bring a new American tradition to Memorial Day’s barbecues, parades and sales: a moment of remembrance, a sigh, perhaps a prayer. A 30-second pause.

The results are mixed.

The White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance does have a theme song donated by Charles Strouse, composer for the musical “Annie.” There is a logo, pens and coasters, prewritten news articles and television spots. There have been events, such as a sand-sculpture display inspired by D-Day. And a few towns, businesses and organizations have paused silently at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day.

In general, though, the commission’s executive director, Carmella LaSpada, has been frustrated by the lack of interest.

“We’re a little disappointed,” she said. “What has been the problem is that we haven’t gotten the support that we would like to have from the media.”

Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican and a longtime friend of Miss LaSpada’s who sponsored the legislation to create the commission, said he is still committed to its mission, but he laughs when he considers the logistics of pulling it off.

“You try and quiet down a country of 300 million,” he said. “We’re a busy people in a busy nation in a busy world. I think it is entirely appropriate to designate a special time to slow down and stop and think for a moment about the people who sacrificed to make this a great country.”

Miss LaSpada has been criticized in annual federal financial audits for blurring the lines between her tiny federal agency and No Greater Love, a nonprofit agency she founded more than three decades ago, which operates next door and has a similar mission.

In July, an auditor with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigatory arm of Congress, wrote that “the distinction between the two organizations could be misperceived.” A new financial audit is under way, a GAO spokesman said.

Miss LaSpada said she is learning to separate the two.

“Personally, I’d rather play down No Greater Love because it looks like I’m still wearing two hats,” she said. “I’m no longer affiliated with No Greater Love. When you are director of an independent government agency, you can’t be affiliated with any other group.”

As executive director of the commission and White House liaison, Miss LaSpada receives about $165,000 in salary and benefits, federal reports show. As executive director at No Greater Love, she was paid $13,840 in 2001, the last year she was listed as running that organization, the nonprofit’s tax forms show.

Miss LaSpada said that in addition to a lack of cooperation from the press, she has been stymied because her commission was supposed to be loaned six employees — one each from the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and the Veterans Affairs and Education departments. But to date she has had one Navy staffer assigned on a six-month basis.

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