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Eye Opener: Woahh Ohhhh Mexico...

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Thursday! President Obama heads south of the border today and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Energy Secretary Steven Chu are going along for the ride. They will discuss various issues with their Mexican counterparts during a jam-packed day of meetings. On Friday, the president and Chu will be joined by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, National Security Adviser Jim Jones and economic adviser Larry Summers at the fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.

Before departing for Mexico, Chu sat down this week with Lois Romano for her Voices of Power interview series. In the clip above (starting at 1:59), he discusses Al Gore's multi-million dollar campaign against coal manufacturing plants.

"The United States actually has the most known coal reserves in the world, and over 50 percent of our electricity is generated by coal," Chu said. "Even if the United States turns its back on coal, China and India will not, and so, given the state of affairs, I would prefer to say let's try to develop technologies that can get a large fraction of the carbon dioxide out of coal. Start with 70, 80 percent, and build up to over 90 percent, but start now, and try to get it out."

Asked if Gore's efforts are unrealistic, Chu said "we really have to take the lead, the technological lead, and see if this can get done. I personally think that there's a reasonably good probability we can figure this one out."

Staff and Cabinet News: Agriculture Secretary Vilsack names new members of his staff. Secretary LaHood joins Obama and Vice President Biden for a high-speed rail announcement this morning at the EEOB that "won't name winners or losers" of rail funding," but "will provide the first look at their strategy and give states a better sense of how they can qualify for funding," according to the WSJ. Clinton visits Haiti today before joining up with Obama at tomorrow's summit in Trinidad. Congressional sources tell The Eye that Census director nominee Robert Groves will get a confirmation hearing in early May. The Census Project has released a letter signed by six former Census directors (pdf) backing his nomination.

In other news...

Opinion: Let The Veterans Speak: WAMU reporter David Schultz elaborates in print about last week's incident at the VA Medical Center in Washington.

The Stimulus Stress Test: ‘Data Dumps,’ Overwhelming Feedback: Much like Alec MacGillis reported last week for The Post, Federal Times' Gregg Carlstrom writes that "The $787 billion stimulus package requires unprecedented levels of transparency — and some federal managers and auditors are worried those requirements will place unfair scrutiny on their agencies. That’s in part because agencies have to depend on state and local governments to provide accurate data about their stimulus programs. And much of that data will be posted immediately on the Web, without giving agencies a chance to review it first. That has some managers concerned about presenting potentially inaccurate data to the public."

N.S.A.’s Intercepts Exceed Limits Set by Congress: It "intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year, government officials said in recent interviews," with Eric Lichtblau and James Risen of the New York Times. "Several intelligence officials, as well as lawyers briefed about the matter, said the N.S.A. had been engaged in 'overcollection' of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic, although one official said it was believed to have been unintentional."

Napolitano Defends Report on Extremism: "Let me be very clear: we monitor the risks of violent extremism taking root here in the United States," Napolitano said in a written statement issued by her department. "We don't have the luxury of focusing our efforts on one group; we must protect the country from terrorism whether foreign or homegrown, and regardless of the ideology that motivates its violence."

Locke's Family Secrets: Timothy Egan writes for his New York Times Outpost blog that "The Locke family narrative is the American story, even with that twist about how they first came to these shores. The fact that they felt some shame over this episode is not usual; they skirted the law, egregious as it was, to get in."

State Dept. Making Changes in Wake of Passport Probe: "In one case, the investigator used the Social Security number of a man who died in 1965. In the other, the investigator used the Social Security number of a 5-year-old while claiming on his application that he was 53," reports The Post's Walter Pincus.

EPA Will Mandate Tests On Pesticide Chemicals: For the first time it "will require pesticide manufacturers to test 67 chemicals contained in their products to determine whether they disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates animals' and humans' growth, metabolism and reproduction," reports The Post's Juliet Eilperin.

DEA: Mexican Drug Violence is a Sign of Progress, Not Failure: Katherine McIntire Peters of GovExec writes that "Skyrocketing violence south of the border indicates the Mexican government's efforts to fight drug cartels are paying off, senior Drug Enforcement Administration officials said on Wednesday." The president meanwhile "ratcheted up efforts to curb the flow of drugs and guns across the southern border, imposing financial sanctions against three of the most violent Mexican drug cartels and threatening to prosecute Americans who do business with them," reports The Post's Spencer S. Hsu.

Gates Takes on Pentagon: He tol an audience of young officers that military brass for too long viewed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as "exotic distractions," reports Peter Spiegel of the Wall Street Journal. "Mr. Gates said that since his arrival at the Pentagon two years ago, he has repeatedly found the senior military leadership looking beyond current wars to future threats."

More Insecurity At Lawrence Livermore Lab: "The place has been bedeviled by questions about breaches in recent years, some of them really over the top," reports The Post's Robert O'Harrow. "One year ago, a government commando team intent on testing the facility's defense quickly overcame security forces."

Report Says IRS Let Foreigners Take Improper Tax Credits: "The report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, which was obtained by The Washington Post in advance of its release, criticizes the IRS for lax oversight of foreigners who use an alternative form of identification instead of a Social Security number," reports The Post's Amit Paley.

Building a Better Battery: The nation's spies and soldiers need new batteries — smaller, longer-lived batteries — and the government is investing tens of millions of dollars in companies that are trying to create them," reports Peter Eisler of USA Today.

Union Challenges Outsourcing of Hundreds of Jobs at West Point: "The Army in March announced that federal employees won an A-76 competition for custodial services, but lost their bid for the public works jobs," reports Gov Exec's Elizabeth Newell. The American Federation of Government Employees "and some New York lawmakers are claiming the Army made it 'impossible' to directly compare the cost of having federal employees perform the work to the cost of hiring contractors."

Cool Event: YGL 2nd Annual Scavenger Hunt: Young Government Leaders will hold its second annual scavenger hunt May 9 from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. It's open to anyone interested in exploring Washington and supporting the organization. All you need is a digital camera capable of taking at least 50 pictures. RSVP to younggovernmentleaders (at) gmail (dot) com with Scavenger Hunt in the
subject line. Registration costs $25 per team on or before May 3rd, $35 after that and $50 on the day of the hunt. All funds raised will support YGL.

By Ed O'Keefe  | April 16, 2009; 6:17 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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