- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 11, 2009

Personnel sweep hits HHS agencies

Most agency heads in the Health and Human Services Department will be replaced on an interim basis by the time Barack Obama is sworn in as president.

An e-mail issued Friday evening listed all of the agency heads who will be gone by Jan. 20, from Dr. Julie Gerberding, the director of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, to Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, the head of the Food and Drug Administration.

Incoming presidents traditionally name the heads of agencies, especially with a change of party. Former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, Mr. Obama’s pick to head HHS, has said he will act quickly to name permanent new heads of agencies such as the FDA.

Dr. von Eschenbach will be replaced for now by Frank Torti, principal deputy commissioner and chief scientist; Dr. Gerberding by William Gimson, now chief operating officer.

Other agencies to have new interim heads will be the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Administration for Children and Families. The Office of the Surgeon-General, the National Institutes of Health and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration already have interim leaders, who will stay on.

20-pound lobster freed from restaurant

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine | A huge lobster that was destined to adorn a dinner plate is back in the ocean after a New York City restaurant granted him a reprieve.

The 20-pound crustacean, named George, was returned to the wild Saturday in a rocky cove in Kennebunkport, less than a mile from the summer home of former President George H.W. Bush. Lobster trapping is forbidden in that area.

George was transported to Maine by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which had asked City Crab and Seafood for the animal.

The animal-rights group and the restaurant said the giant lobster may be up to 140 years old, although conventional standards for guessing a lobster’s age put it closer to 80.

Teacher arrested on pot charges

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. | Police in central Pennsylvania said they have arrested a veteran elementary school teacher and seized 72 pounds of marijuana from her home.

Williamsport police said they arrested Beth Camp, 52, on Friday along with her husband and son and charged them with possession with intent to deliver and other counts. Police estimated the marijuana was worth $350,000.

School officials say Mrs. Camp has taught in the Williamsport Area School District for nearly 25 years.

‘Reply all’ messages tangle State e-mail

Many “reply all” fiascos result in mere embarrassment, but American diplomats have been told they may be punished for sending mass responses after an e-mail storm nearly knocked out one of the State Department’s main electronic communications systems.

A cable sent last week to all employees at the department’s Washington headquarters and overseas missions warns of unspecified “disciplinary actions” for using the “reply to all” function on e-mail with large distribution lists.

The cable, a copy of which was obtained by the Associated Press, was prompted by a major interruption in departmental e-mail caused by numerous diplomats hitting “reply all” to an errant message inadvertently addressed and copied to several thousand recipients.

“Department staff hitting ‘reply to all’ on an e-mail with a large distribution list is causing an e-mail storm on the department’s OpenNet e-mail system,” says the unclassified cable that was sent Thursday by Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy.

ExxonMobil chief backs carbon tax

The head of ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company, has called for a carbon tax to help cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

“A carbon tax is also the most efficient means of reflecting the cost of carbon in all economic decisions - from investments made by companies to fuel their requirements, to the product choices made by consumers,” Rex Tillerson said in a speech Thursday to the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

“As a businessman, it is hard to speak favorably about any new tax. But a carbon tax strikes me as a more direct, a more transparent and a more effective approach,” the oil chief was quoted Saturday by Britain’s Independent newspaper as saying.

‘Eternal’ flame has on-and-off week

BULLHEAD CITY, Ariz. | An “eternal” flame at Bullhead City’s new veterans memorial park lasted less than two months until city officials received a $961 gas bill, though it since has been re-lit following complaints by veterans groups.

The Medal of Honor Memorial at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Park alongside the Colorado River was lit on Veterans Day in November. When the bill arrived in late December, city officials were stunned.

“It caught us by surprise,” City Manager Tim Ernster said Thursday. “What we decided to do for the time being is to turn the flame on … for special events, for Veterans Day, Fourth of July, Memorial Day - those types of activities.”

The flame was extinguished on Monday. The Mohave Valley Daily News published a story Friday quoting city officials and disgruntled veterans who had worked to pay for and build the memorial before turning it over to the city.

The flame was back on by midmorning Friday following a meeting of city officials. Spokesman Steve Johnson said city parks officials are looking at ways to put a smaller burner in place and only use the larger one at special events.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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