By LISA HOFFMAN
Scripps Howard News Service
July 14, 2008
But even though the Pentagon regularly -- not to mention unequivocally -- assures lawmakers and others that the current all-volunteer force continues to handle its combat and other defense duties splendidly, rumors of a return to the draft won't die.
The latest saber-rattling between Israel, Iran and the United States, abetted by hyperventilating bloggers predicting the U.S. will bomb Iran's nuclear facilities after the November elections, has breathed new life into the rumors.
They also are popping up on the campaign trail. One rumor has it that Democratic Sen. Barack Obama's promise to make public service a central tenet of his administration includes a veiled intent to bring back the draft. Others paint GOP Sen. John McCain as a warmonger who will so stretch the armed forces that a draft will be necessary.
Both candidates say all that is hogwash, with McCain recently spurning a draft for anything short of "an all-out World War III." Obama has not disagreed.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is finally cracking down on drug-test cheating by truck drivers, railroad workers, bus and subway personnel, and others by requiring labs to test every urine sample they receive for signs of tampering.
Until now, labs weren't required to examine specimens for evidence they had been diluted, adulterated or substituted by workers trying to foil drug or alcohol tests, which are required in the aftermath of crashes or other foul-ups.
In a report this spring, the U.S. Government Accountability Office blasted the department for allowing such a lax and potentially dangerous policy to continue.
Three years late and at double the original cost, the vast Capitol Visitor Center now has a for-sure opening date of December 2 -- just in time to welcome not only tourists but also the opening of the 111th session of Congress in January.
Construction of the three-story underground complex -- which boasts a 550-seat cafeteria and two gift shops -- began after 9/11 and was slated to be finished in January 2005 at a price tag of $265 million. Glitches, the addition of more staff workspace, meeting rooms and super-security enhancements pushed the taxpayers' presumably final bill to $621 million.
In the nearby Rayburn House Office Building, a nasty spat is underway over the Democratic leaders' new "hallway policy." Speaker Nancy Pelosi has decreed that the halls of House buildings need to be cleared of the old office furniture, trash, assorted office equipment and other items that commonly clutter them up, creating obstacles for those traversing them and presenting a less-than-dignified image.
But Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., has taken great umbrage at the inclusion of the small memorial honoring the fallen heroes of the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune that stands outside his office as hallway detritus that must be removed.
The Architect of the Capitol contends that a list of the names of the fallen in an entrance foyer to the Rayburn building should suffice. Others suggest Jones move the memorial -- a display of photos of the fallen on an easel -- into his office.
Jones, whose district includes Lejeune, isn't budging, though he says he is open to suggestions for others ways to memorialize the war dead.
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