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Eye Opener: April 2, 2009

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Thursday!

Today's Big Story: There are several good "behind the scenes" stories about Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to drop the government's case against former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

"The collapse of the Stevens case was a profound embarrassment for the Justice Department, and it raised troubling issues about the integrity of the actions of prosecutors who wield enormous power over people they investigate," reports Neil A. Lewis of the New York Times.

NPR's Nina Totenberg -- who broke the big story Wednesday morning -- reports that "The straw that apparently broke Holder's back was the discovery of more prosecutorial notes that were not turned over to the Stevens defense team as required by law. The notes were discovered by the new prosecution team, which was appointed in February."

Del Quentin Wilber -- who covered the Stevens case for The Post -- notes that "Holder's decision to drop the Stevens case comes less than two weeks after a federal jury in Puerto Rico resoundingly acquitted the commonwealth's former Democratic governor, Anibal Acevedo Vila, of conspiracy and money laundering charges. Justice Department prosecutors charged Acevedo Vila last year, not long before indicting Stevens, in the midst of a tight reelection campaign that he ultimately lost."

Politico's Josh Gerstein calls Holder's move "just the kind of bold stroke longtime critics of the Bush Justice Department wanted from the new attorney general" while The Post's editorial board says "this extraordinary reversal cannot erase or forgive the ugly behavior that gave rise to the indictment in the first place."

Cabinet News: Hillary Rodham Clinton and Timothy Geithner join Obama at the G-20 meetings; Kathleen Sebelius endures day two of confirmation hearings (before the committee that exposed her tax issues).

In other news...

Report Faults U.S. Spy Agencies: The lede by NYT's Mark Mazzetti says it all: "A withering internal report made public on Wednesday criticized the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for bureaucratic bloat, financial mismanagement and a failure to end the turf battles among America’s spy agencies that led to disastrous intelligence failures in recent years. The report, by the inspector general, was the most detailed account to date of problems that bedevil America’s intelligence agencies more than four years after Congress and President George W. Bush created the director’s office to overcome weaknesses exposed by the Sept. 11 attacks."

Ex-Lobbyist, Kaine Brother-in-Law Among 4 Proposed for U.S. Attorney: The Post's Jerry Markon reports there are four nominees to serve as U.S. attorney for Alexandria, Va., "one of the nation's most prominent law-enforcement posts." The nominees are: "Neil MacBride, a former prosecutor and chief counsel to Vice President Biden who lobbied federal officials as recently as mid-2007, and Dwight C. Holton, a federal prosecutor in Oregon and the brother of [Virginia Gov. Tim] Kaine's wife, are on the list of names sent to the White House by Sens. James Webb (D) and Mark Warner (D). The list also includes Erik R. Barnett, a federal prosecutor in Alexandria who heads the narcotics unit, and Robert P. Crouch Jr., a former U.S. attorney in Roanoke."

When Will Gays Get Their Obama Day?: Amid concerns that gays have not reaped the benefits of the young Obama administration, Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports that "As soon as the Senate confirms John Berry to head the Office of Personnel Management, Obama intends to sign an executive order strengthening workplace protections for the LGBT community. Having Berry by his side is important -- Berry'd be the highest-ranking openly gay administration official -- and, of course, as the OPM chief, he's the chief human resource officer for government employees." Incidentally, a Senate committee unanimously approved Berry's nomination yesterday, but he won't get a full Senate vote for at least two weeks.

At TSA, a Waiting Game For Bargaining Rights: The Post's Steve Vogel on the security agency's waiting game: "Border Patrol agents can do it. So can federal protective officers and U.S. Capitol Police. But Transportation Security Administration officers, who screen passengers at airports across the country, are not allowed to engage in collective bargaining."

Retirement Reform Bill Clears House: "The bill (H.R. 1804) would give workers in the newer Federal Employees Retirement System credit for their unused sick leave when they retire, putting them on par with colleagues in the older Civil Service Retirement System," reports Gov Exec's Amelia Gruber.

Lawmakers Examine Logistics of Potential NSPS Repeal: "The Pentagon does not have a detailed plan for repealing its controversial pay-for-performance system if asked to do so by Congress, a Defense Department official said at a House hearing on Wednesday," reports Gov Exec's Alyssa Rosenberg.

Secretary Tells Panel Museums Are Safe: "In response to criticism of the handling of asbestos in Smithsonian Institution buildings, Secretary G. Wayne Clough yesterday told a congressional panel he had ordered free health screenings for all employees and a "complete review" of safety policies and procedures," reports The Post's Jacqueline Trescott.

Vote on New U.S. Envoy to Iraq Delayed: A vote on Christopher Hill's nomination "will likely be delayed due objections of at least one lawmaker, congressional aides said Wednesday," according to the AP. "They said votes still were expected by Thursday on six other nominees who, like Hill, won Senate Foreign Relations Committee approval on Tuesday. The others, including Obama's choice for ambassador to Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, were expected to receive unanimous consent from the Senate this week, the aides said."

Duncan Announces Education Funds During Pr. George's Visit: The education secretary reports that "$44 billion in federal stimulus funds is available to states, an influx intended to prevent teacher layoffs and program cuts and improve education for disadvantaged children," according to The Post's Maria Glod. "Overall, the stimulus law pumps about $100 billion -- the largest cash investment ever for public education -- into public schools, universities and early childhood programs."

Napolitano Outlines Plan for Border Infrastructure: "The Obama administration plans to spend more than $400 million to upgrade ports of entry and surveillance technologies to help thwart drugs and arms smuggling along the U.S-Mexico border," the AP reports. "In her first visit to the U.S.-Mexico border since taking office two months ago, Napolitano toured a customs and border protection facility at Otay Mesa, Calif."

Biden, Vilsack Tour Rural N. Carolina: The Eye got a combined seven press releases on these events from USDA, and the presidential and vice presidential press offices. "About $1.8 billion in federal stimulus money was released Wednesday to help strengthen rural communities by supporting loan guarantees and loosening credit for small-town home buyers," according to the AP.

• Energy Staffing Not at Pace With Acquisition Workload: According to DOE's inspector general. The department "has done little to offset a growing demand for their skills and meet the unprecedented requirements of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act," reports Gov Exec's Katherine McIntire Peters.

Deputy VA Secretary Nominee Wants Career Employees’ Ideas: Scott Gould, credited with transforming bureaucracies at the Treasury and Commerce departments and at IBM, shared his secrets to success with senators on Wednesday, reports the Federal Times' Rick Maze.

Feds File to Delist Wolves, Except in Wyoming: "U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a formal rule Wednesday to remove gray wolves from the federal endangered list in Montana and Idaho while keeping protections in Wyoming," the AP reports. "State Attorney General Bruce Salzburg said Wyoming will sue over being denied management of wolves. The state has proposed classifying wolves as predators that could be shot on sight in most of the state and managed as trophy game in some parts."

By Ed O'Keefe  | April 2, 2009; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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