Monday, August 14, 2006


Beltway pundits come in various forms, stripes, sizes, what have you. However, one generally doesn't expect a federal government official to engage in that profession, yet apparently at least one person on the federal payroll (to the tune of about $140,000 per year) supplements her income by appearing on various television shows as a "conservative analyst." Al Kamen's column In the Loop discusses her role in today's Washington Post.

A Loop Fan writes: "Please explain to your readers how a government official who is paid by hard-earned taxpayer dollars is allowed to moonlight as a Republican mouthpiece on television."

The anonymous inquiry included a photo of Labor Department deputy assistant secretary Karen Czarnecki appearing on Fox News as a "conservative strategist." She's also a regular "conservative analyst" on the PBS show "To the Contrary" and, according to her department biography, has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, Canadian Public Broadcasting and C-SPAN.

So how does Czarnecki, who has worked in the Reagan and Bush I administrations and at the Heritage Foundation, do it? Easy. We're told it's quite possible to hold forth on "intelligent design," the meaning of the latest election returns and most any political issue without running afoul of ethics regulations or the Hatch Act's provisions on politics and government employees.

The ethics laws restrict income that certain political appointees can earn on the side, and the Hatch Act bars political activity while on duty or in a federal building, or using your official title or position.

...Her punditry is not sanctioned by the department, and her appearances aren't booked by Labor. "Ms. Czarnecki involves herself as an active citizen on her own time engaging in activities that any citizen engages in," a Labor Department spokesman said. "It's no different than a person on the street doing a TV interview on Election Day."

Her television role was cleared by career ethics staff at the department. She apparently files leave papers, even if for a couple hours, before heading off to the studios. The quick appearances are supposed to be freebies, but we understand the regular PBS gig does supplement her government pay.

It may be legal, but it still smells bad. Why the media buys into this kind of overt chicanery and then hides behind the excuse that she is not identified as a Republican, merely as a "conservative" is a mystery to me. The fact remains that she is part of the Administration, even if that is not made clear each and every time. This most definitely is different "than a person on the street doing a TV interview on Election Day."

Besides, aren't there enough pundits outside of government who can do the same job? I hear Bob Novak is usually available.


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