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Washington Calling

Government growth ... tanks reign ... elms make comeback
by Lance Gay
Scripps Howard News Service


January 21, 2005

Washington - Expect President Bush to use his Feb. 2 State of the Union address to persuade Congress it's time to freeze federal spending and tame the Washington Leviathan.

That old Leviathan is sure one tough beast to bring to heel. Since Bill Clinton famously used his 1995 State of the Union address to declare, "The era of big government is over," the number of civilian employees on the federal payroll has barely budged, from 2.8 million in 1996 to 2.7 million in 2003. The federal judiciary has actually added 6,000 federal employees since 1995, to 35,000 on its payroll today.

The federal budget in 1995: $1.6 trillion. Today: $2.5 trillion.

America's unelected rulers have also been busy as beavers. Last year, the bureaucracy published 78,851 pages of new federal regulations, up from the 75,795 pages of directives issued in 2003. In 1995, the government published 67,518 pages of new rules.

Those are just the dictates the government is willing to tell the public about. The secretive Department of Homeland Security refuses to detail in public the regulations and orders it issues to airport security personnel, which are used to determine which passengers are selected for personal security pat-downs.

Stately American elms are making comeback at the White House. After dismantling the inaugural parade bleachers, some 88 new disease-resistant elm trees are slated for planting on the three-block expanse in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Lessons from the Iraq war are radically reshaping military spending program.

Making a surprising comeback: battle tanks.

Analysts almost wrote off lumbering battle tanks as outdated relics of yesterday's wars. But the Army learned in Iraq that there's nothing quite like confronting a huge metal behemoth to impress upon an enemy the futility of its cause. The Army's new hefty eight-wheeled Stryker got particularly rave reviews, in spite of Washington skeptics.

On the hit-list: the very finicky Apache helicopters, which are too high strung for desert warfare. Older generation Cobras, Blackhawks and Marine Corps Kiowas have performed much better. After Iraq insurgents began mining roads, helicopter workhorses replaced trucks on crucial re-supply missions.

Heading for deep budget cuts: a blue water Navy and expensive Air Force stealth fighters, both of which have helped little in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

How easy is it to fire a federal employee?

Consider the case of Willie Rawls, who in July 1999 shot the bouncer in a Memphis topless club several times with a 12-gauge shotgun. The Postal Service suspended the mail handler the next month and fired him June 21, 2002, after Rawls was sentenced to 11 months in prison for reckless endangerment of life.

But an administrative law judge in 2003 ordered the Postal Service to reinstate Rawls, ruling the 1999 suspension was too harsh because the agency didn't tell Rawls what he had to do to correct the problem that led to his suspension. Last month, the Merit Systems Protection Board sided with the Postal Service, finding Rawls' arrest in after the 1999 shooting was "reasonable cause" to believe Rawls had committed a crime.

But in its ruling, the board noted that Rawls has additional appeal rights afforded government employees if he wants to get his job back.

Veterans groups vow to deluge the Federal Communications Commission with complaints about a proposal to hike long-distance phone charges for people who use calling cards. Protests forced the FCC to shelve a proposal to hike the fees by 20 percent last year, but the panel now is reconsidering that action. Veterans groups argue that active-duty military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan rely on the convenient cards to make calls to their families at home.



Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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