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News Briefs, part 1

Watching for Capitol Hill Transfers

The Washington Post

Despite all the Republican hubbub about the Clinton administration packing the executive branch with out-of-work Capitol Hill Democrats, a review of the numbers over the last few years shows congressional transfers aren't much of a threat to civil service.

Between 1985 and the first six months of 1994, only 557 people have used the Ramspeck Act. The law allows legislative staffers with three years of experience and certain qualifications to slip into the civil service, which totals more than 2 million.

Of those 557, an administration official said, 435 remain on the government's payroll. Many of them, if not the majority, are quite likely to be Republicans.

As might be expected, the bulk of the Ramspecks, 249, are listed as working in general administrative jobs. Another 49 work in the information and arts job categories, presumably doing public affairs.

Over the last decade, the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Interior and Veterans Affairs have hired the most Ramspecks.

The peak years for Ramspeck conversions were 1987 (116), when Republicans lost control of the Senate, and 1993 (102), when the Bush administration departed Pennsylvania Avenue. Next year may set a new standard, though, since Washington almost never sees both houses of Congress flip to the opposition party.

Travel Office Case Nears Indictment

The Washington Post

Federal prosecutors and attorneys for Billy Ray Dale, the former director of the White House travel office, have reached an impasse in negotiations over allegations that Dale embezzled more than $55,000 in media travel payments he oversaw.

As a result, federal prosecutors will ask a grand jury Wednesday to indict Dale on charges of theft, Dale's attorney and Justice officials said. The indictment had been expected in September, but had been delayed as Dale's lawyers sought to provide additional information to exonerate their client.

Federal officials are moving toward indicting Dale "for something he simply did not do," said Steven C. Tabackman, Dale's lead attorney in a weekend telephone interview.

Dale repeatedly has denied the allegations and his associates say he is the victim of a political witch hunt by three of the president's associates, all of whom had business or personal interests in the travel office.

Dale's prosecution could spotlight the internal workings of the Clinton White House and raise questions about the behavior of the president's friends and staff as Clinton attempts to put personal and administrative issues behind him. Republican officials have promised to hold a hearing on the matter this spring.

The federal probe of Dale centers on allegations that he placed more than $55,000 of press corps funds in a personal account between 1988 and 1991. He is accused of spending the cash for his own use, paying for work on a second home that he owns in Louisa, Va.

Threat to Abolish U.S. Geological Survey Worries Scientists

Los Angeles Times

Threats by the incoming Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee to abolish the U.S. Geological Survey as a money-saving measure stirred apprehension here Monday as 6,000 scientists gathered for the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

"It's kind of crazy," said Barbara Romanowicz, director of the University of California, Berkeley, Seismographic Station, and one of many academicians who depend on the 115-year-old agency for its comprehensive monitoring of geophysical phenomena, especially earthquakes and volcanoes.

"I don't see how we can do away with these functions altogether," Romanowicz said. "You'd be back in the dark ages."

Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, first proposed eliminating the Geological Survey last year, but as a minority member of a committee then controlled by Democrats, his idea stalled. Then, during the recent congressional election that brought the Republicans to power, he pushed it again as part of the GOP's "Contract With America."

Kasich's press secretary, Bruce Cuthbertson, said Monday that the congressman is willing to listen to appeals from Californians in Congress and feels that perhaps the earthquake functions of the Geological Survey could be transferred to the National Science Foundation.