Beltway Beat: Out of thin air

John McCaslin
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Posted: May 15, 2002 12:00 AM
Magic has occurred at the Wall. Several weeks ago, visitors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington noted that 24 of the 68 halogen footlights that illuminate the Wall were not functioning. So the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the nonprofit organization that in 1982 built the Wall, has been forced to hire an electrical contractor to repair and refurbish the lighting system. As the work got under way Friday, May 10, memorial founder Jan Scruggs was standing at the Wall when a gentleman, accompanied by his wife and the couple's grandchildren, strolled past. He was Michael Shanahan, chairman and CEO of Engineered Support Systems, Inc., of St. Louis. Mo. Observing the activity, Shanahan approached Scruggs and asked about the repair. After Scruggs had finished explaining, Shanahan inquired how much the work would cost. Scruggs responded "about $5,000," at which point Shanahan ran to his car and began writing a check. Alan Greilsamer, director of communications for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, also was on hand and was able to snap a photograph of the astounded Scruggs receiving the generous check from Shanahan, who had shortly before emerged from a meeting with President Bush at the White House. EXPENSIVE THREADS One of former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp's congressional liaison aides at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in town for a reunion of the Kemp team last week, complained that the presidential impeachment section of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History displayed the travails of Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon, but not Bill Clinton. Not so, says David Umansky, director of communications for the Smithsonian, who wonders what tour the Kemp team was led on. "The sections are divided equally between Johnson, Nixon and Clinton," Umansky says. "In fact, for the Clinton section there are two photos and six objects, while for the Nixon section there are three photos but just two objects." Even the robe worn by Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist during the Senate impeachment trial of Clinton is on display at the museum, Umansky notes. Which gives us the opportunity to add that Chief Justice Rehnquist, in his 1999 financial disclosure report, listed the same robe he presented to the Smithsonian as a "donation." In fact, the chief justice declared in the report that the robe was appraised by Sotheby's at a whopping $30,000. Which begs the question: If Chief Justice Rehnquist's robe is valued at $30,000, can you imagine the price tag put on Monica Lewinsky's blue dress? GUMBO AND GOLF No, your eyes did not deceive you; that was tough-guy Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana sporting an apron alongside TV homemaker Martha Stewart. "That show first aired several months ago," Tauzin's spokesman, Ken Johnson, informs this column. "I guess you could say that like Mary Tyler Moore, Billy continues to be popular in reruns." In this particular segment, the congressman is sharing his personal recipes for barbecue shrimp and Louisiana gumbo. "Gumbo is like politics," the Democrat-turned-Republican lawmaker explains. "You throw everything into a pot, stir it up, then see how long it takes to bubble." BRUSHING UP ON OSAMA Wanted by the FBI: American citizens who can understand what Osama bin Laden is saying. It's no secret that the FBI is facing foreign language capability shortages. Specifically, the bureau needs translators and interpreters to decipher major increases in intelligence data from fiber-optic cables, cell phones and the Internet. Past intelligence gathering, it reminds us, focused mostly on wiretaps or capturing line-of-sight radio communications. The FBI's Language Services Section tells us new technology is expected to increase the volume of FBI foreign language work by as much as 30 percent per year. As a result, the bureau has instituted a strategic work-force plan. It cites a "critical need" to hire by 2004 special agents with foreign language skills to support "specific FBI missions," the most urgent being to fight terrorism. In addition, the FBI has supplemented its staff of full-time translators and interpreters with 463 contract linguists, each working an average of 16 hours per week. The FBI is also making use of other Justice Department agency staff on a temporary basis to fill low-demand language needs. Last year, the FBI had 415 authorized translator and interpreter positions, but only 360 of the posts were filled. By next year, the FBI wants an additional 96 full-time translators and interpreters in addition to the 415 already authorized. Until then, the bureau acknowledges "potential gaps in U.S. efforts to thwart terrorism," specifically "concerns over the thousands of hours of audiotapes and pages of written material that have not been reviewed or translated because of a lack of qualified linguists." FAREWELL, FLIPPER The National Marine Fisheries Service, which falls under the stewardship of the Commerce Department, is considering whether to propose regulations to protect marine mammals in the wild from human activities that might "harass" the animals. This would include swimming with, performing with, and even "posing" with dolphins. "Over the past several years, swimming with wild dolphins has significantly increased in the Southeast United States and Hawaii, and is beginning to expand to other U.S. coastal areas," the NMFS writes, adding that "attempting to swim with, pet, touch or elicit a reaction from the animals constitute harassment." Instead, the NMFS is recommending that humans "use binoculars or telephoto lenses to get a good view of the animals (and) limit observation time to 30 minutes or less." "A regulation amending the definition of 'harassment' could clarify which specific activities are prohibited," the service notes. "Interaction would include swimming with, touching, posing with, or otherwise acting on or with a marine mammal." And what if the ever-playful dolphins swim up to people? "NMFS recognizes that there are situations where wild marine mammals will approach people on their own accord, either out of curiosity or to ride the bow wave/surf the stern wake of a vessel underway," the service says. "If wild marine mammals enter an area used by swimmers or divers, NMFS recommends avoiding abrupt movements and moving away." PATRIOTIC APPRENTICESHIP That mysterious neighbor of yours who recently arrived from some far-off land might actually be helping U.S. authorities track down sleeper terrorists. President Bush has signed into law a bill to give the Immigration and Naturalization Service permanent authorization to grant the admission of "S" visa non-immigrants into the United States. But there's a catch. "S" visa non-immigrants are aliens who are admitted into the United States solely for the purpose of assisting law enforcement as informants in criminal cases. Such aliens, who have come to be called "noncitizen informants," are granted entry in exchange for their information and can become permanent residents only after certain conditions are met.