Lawmakers diving into March pools

March 17, 1993|By Arizona Republic

WASHINGTON -- Every year at this time, many of the people who help write or enforce the nation's laws get together to break government rules.

We're talking, of course, about government-office pools on the NCAA college basketball tournament. The tournament, dubbed "March Madness," begins tomorrow.

The ethics-minded Clinton administration is taking a serious view of the pools, which have sprouted all over Capitol Hill and at federal agencies.

The Office of Personnel Management says the pools violate rules against gambling and, quite often, lead to improper use of government equipment, such as fax machines and copiers.

"Office equipment and supplies are to be used for the purpose of government business," said a grim-sounding Michael Orenstein, spokesman for the OPM, which oversees federal agency employees.

But the rules are seldom enforced.

"I don't go around checking and seeing if people have pools," said Gabriel Paone, ethics officer for the Interior Department. "We don't have an enforcement crew to go around and see if this is happening."

Still, Mr. Paone said he has broken up "at least two" pools in recent years that he heard about.

"Can I sit here and tell you it's not going on? No, I can't tell you that," Mr. Paone said.

Office pools have practically become a cottage industry in the House and the Senate.

Pools in the Senate are "rampant," said one senator's aide.

"I've got three pools in front of me," the staffer said. "One is in my office, one is from [another senator's office], and one is from the House side. I'm going to do all three."

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