The Beltway Beat

John McCaslin
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Posted: Mar 14, 2007 9:57 AM
The Beltway Beat

GROWS ON TREES

The exact amount unfortunately will never be known, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) dished out anywhere from $600 million to $1.4 billion in "improper and potentially fraudulent payments" to applicants who used false information when applying for expedited cash assistance after Hurricane Katrina.

That's according to William O. Jenkins Jr., director of homeland security and justice issues for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), who testified last Friday before the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee.

Hope is on the horizon, however. A GAO report that accompanied Jenkins’ testimony says that both FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security have a number of measures that are to be in place for the 2007 hurricane season to "provide accountability."

IN THE NAVY

Statement issued by NASA: “Further inquiries concerning Nowak’s status and activities should be directed to the chief of Naval Personnel Public Affairs, (703) 614-2000.”

In other words, now that the space agency has terminated U.S. Navy Capt. Lisa Marie Nowak’s detail as a NASA astronaut, it has effectively washed its hands of her legal and personal morass. Still, Nowak remains an active-duty naval officer.

“Nowak will receive her next assignment from the U.S. Navy,” NASA assures.

AMERICAN GLORY

Not everyone who lives inside the Beltway has to be politically connected in order to stand out.

Take the case of 15-year-old Ashley Wagner, a sophomore at West Potomac High School in Fairfax County, who recently placed third in the World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany.

She, along with Americans Caroline Zhang and Mirai Nagasu, made history by giving the United States its first-ever sweep by taking the top three spots in the ladies’ event.

As it turns out, Ashley was born in Germany, while her dad, now retired from the military, was stationed there. During a press conference, a reporter asked Ashley if the topic of "poaching" had popped up, referring to the fact that the German Federation is known for recruiting top-notch skaters.

As a matter of fact, it had, Ashley replied, but she assured her audience that she loved her country and would continue to compete here.

GOING TO RENO

Frustration within conservative ranks is reaching “record levels,” according to the right-leaning Citizen Outreach, which announces its first Conservative Leadership Conference in October 2007, with the emphasis on the 2008 presidential election and the so-called “new media” that supports a particular party’s candidates.

The conference "will play home to some of the nation’s top conservative activists and bloggers who desire to see the movement grow into a powerful force in U.S. politics," says organizers, who plan a national straw poll, campaign training and "blogger courses."

Rather than the District, the conference venue is Reno, Nev., where Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, has signed on as event co-sponsor. Organizers expect a showing of Republican presidential hopefuls.

MAN OR NATURE?

Lawmakers are lining up to applaud the formation of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, including Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat, who acknowledges that the question of whether the Earth is warming is not so much scientific as it is political, economic and social.

"My colleagues and I on the Democratic side of the aisle do not share this degree of doubt," she said of Republican naysayers, who’ve questioned whether man is mostly responsible for our temperatures rising, or whether the cause is solar in nature, as is happening with other planets in our solar system.

Still, Slaughter isn't giving up hope, noting that "President Bush even used the phrase 'climate change’ in his State of the Union address this year," which she says is a start.

When the committee is impaneled, it will be made up of nine Democrats and six Republicans, each tasked with making recommendations concerning climate change, no matter who — or what — is to blame.