Congressman Roscoe G. Bartlett of Maryland's Sixth Congressional District can take pride in at least one accomplishment during his first term: No White House official will ever again fly a government helicopter to play a round of golf. Thanks in part to the Western Maryland congressman's dedication to eradicating government waste, President Clinton last week summarily dismissed his long-time friend David Watkins from his position as White House director of administration.
Mr. Watkins made the mistake of using the presidential helicopter to fly to Holly Hills Country Club near New Market. The unusual mode of transport was brought to the attention of the Frederick News-Post, which dispatched a photographer in hopes of getting a photo of President Clinton. Rather than capturing an image of the president, photographer Skip Lawrence got a shot of a Marine in dress uniform, standing next to the helicopter, delivering a snappy salute to a White House aide in golf togs.
After seeing the photo in the morning paper, Mr. Bartlett quickly dispatched a letter to President Clinton demanding to know if the afternoon round "was simply a staff golfing outing at taxpayer expense." After receiving Mr. Bartlett's letter, the White House quickly dropped the flimsy cover story that the group was scouting the course for a future presidential round. Mr. Watkins was forced to resign and a second aide was demoted. The president said the government would be reimbursed for unauthorized use of the helicopter.
Mr. Bartlett, a freshman who suffered from a number of political gaffes during his first year in office, seems to have recovered politically by casting himself as a watchdog against government waste. Railing against government perks has become his specialty. His ire has not been aimed solely at the executive branch. Mr. Bartlett has also introduced legislation that would force members of Congress to obey all the laws it passes for the rest of the nation and to eliminate such special treatment as free parking at Washington area airports.
While the political finger-pointing seems to have served Mr. Bartlett well, it can cut the other way, too.
Less than a year ago, he was roundly embarrassed when it was disclosed his campaign organization had failed to pay its workers' federal and state payroll taxes. As a strong believer in folk wisdom, Mr. Bartlett should remember that "those who live by the sword, die by the sword."