The story of ‘O’

It will be all about the big "O" when the new Congress takes over next month. "Oversight" will be the name of the game.

Defense contractors, pharmaceutical firms, oil companies and others are all expected to come into the sights of Democratic committee chairmen who are promising to open investigations and hold oversight hearings into the practices and products of these industries. Also on notice for similar scrutiny are a host of agencies, from the EPA to the CIA.

As a result, K Street lobbying and public-relations firms are scrambling to set up what one prominent firm has named a "Congressional Investigations Response Team" and hiring former congressional staffers who had run Hill probes in the past to perform damage control for those summoned before the House and Senate panels.

Meanwhile, the watchdog Project on Government Oversight is holding highly popular seminars for the new inquisitors in which they are taught "how to root out documents from uncooperative companies," the "anatomy of government contracts" and about "Congress’ rights to classified and proprietary information."

C-SPAN has thrown down the gauntlet to incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to demonstrate that the Democrats’ vow of a new "transparency" in Congress is not just hot air.

C-SPAN Chairman Brian Lamb is lobbying Pelosi to give the public-service network control of the cameras that beam House action live to millions across the country. For nearly three decades, the House speaker has kept charge of the cameras, which have been forbidden from panning the chamber or zooming in for reaction shots.

Lamb said the static view does not reflect reality and means that TV viewers can see just a fraction of the proceedings that those sitting in the body’s public gallery can. Pelosi’s office says she will review the request.

There’s now a "bias hotline" that people can call for help if they feel discriminated against while traveling. Spurred by the November incident when six Muslim clerics were removed from a US Airways flight in Minneapolis after passengers saw their behavior as suspicious, the Council on American-Islamic Relations created the toll-free number, 800-784-7528. Callers will receive advice about their rights and what they can do if they encounter bias.

Gel bras are now OK to wear onboard a jetliner, but leave your sizable snow globes at home. The Raleigh News & Observer reports that globes made with more than 3 ounces of flake-infused liquid are verboten.

The government’s anthrax vaccine program — the centerpiece of efforts to stockpile anti-bioterror drugs and vaccines — suffered a big setback when the feds cancelled VaxGen’s $877 million contract for a next-generation anthrax vaccine. Already dogged by questions about the developmental drug’s potency and stability, the company failed to meet deadlines to get the program going, which apparently doomed it. A British company is a possible new source.

New to the regulatory lexicon: "Fugitive dust." The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a final rule on the amount of such dust that is allowed to be stirred up on farms and ranches by such acts as tilling soil, planting crops, driving on dirt roads and mixing feed, along with the ambling of cattle in feedlots.

EPA set the limit at 150 micrograms per cubic meter per 24-hour period. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association says it is impossible to meet that restriction in many rural areas and calls that dust "at most a nuisance issue" and not a public health concern.

The release of the first revision in more than 20 years of the Army and Marine Corps counterinsurgency field manual has drawn some attention. Little note, however, has been paid to the Marines’ new physical-fitness training regime, which features a dramatically different approach due to lessons learned in combat in Iraq.

Gone will be the emphasis on aerobic conditioning and long-distance running. Now, the focus will be on building up the "core" strength and stamina of Marines, who need it to contend with the stress that modern helmets, heavy flak jackets and pounds of other gear place on their necks and lower backs. Short, fast runs while carrying heavy loads — including wounded comrades — also require different training, as does doing all that in 100-degree heat.


"A planned deployment of kilts will be agreed with the Royal Regiment of Scotland on a roll-out basis." — A spokesman for Scotland’s defense ministry — addressing a kilt shortage that is forcing 5,000 soldiers to share the plaid skirts — in universal military-speak that, roughly translated, means "keep your pants on."