The Buzz

Survival of the Fittest

At 7 feet tall and weighing as much as 800 pounds, grizzly bears ought to be able to protect themselves. But for 30 years, they've been safeguarded by the Endangered Species Act, their number in the lower 48 states having plummeted from 50,000 in 1800 to fewer than 1,000 in 1975, the year the act took effect. Their chief predator? Us.

As humans encroached on their home ranges, grizzlies developed a taste for our garbage, our pets' food, livestock and camping supplies. The inevitable conflicts went badly for bears.

Now, the Fish and Wildlife Service wants to declare victory for one group of grizzlies and pull them off the endangered species list. In November 2005, FWS proposed delisting the bears living in and around Yellowstone National Park-9,200 acres in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. The grizzly population there is thought to have grown from 200 to 300 to about 600 in 30 years.

As with almost every public land management decision, this one has put a federal agency squarely in the middle of a pitched battle. FWS has declared the delisting a great victory of the Endangered Species Act. Western legislators, including Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., say it's proof that the act is outdated. Environmentalists are fighting delisting tooth and nail.

The comment period on delisting was extended to March 20, the day 250 scientists sent a letter of opposition. More than 160,000 comments poured in. "The Yellowstone grizzly bear population faces significant threats to recovery," the scientists wrote. A final decision on delisting the bears is expected by the end of the year.

Ironically, one measure FWS used to determine whether the Yellowstone grizzlies were ready to live without protection is the six-year average percentage of bears killed by people. The limit for 2002 was 4 percent. From 1997 to 2002, an annual average of 10.5 grizzlies died at human hands, only 2.5 percent of the estimated 416. By that measure, delisting isn't bad news, bears.

Kicking Carbs

At a March conference of the Information Processing Interagency Conference in Orlando, Fla., 312 federal and industry technology experts said they'd rather give up cake and cookies than BlackBerrys. CDWG, an information technology company headquartered in Vernon Hills, Ill., surveyed conferees.

. Government Industry
Broadband 49% 57%
Blackberry 22% 16%
Desserts 15% 11%
Carbs 5% 5%

Buy America

The deal that would have allowed a state-owned Dubai company, DP World-UEA, to manage some operations at six U.S. ports shined a light on a little-known federal group. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has the power to dash the hopes of would-be foreign investors, but it doesn't often do so. It was established in 1975 to monitor and coordinate policy on foreign investments out of concern about growing investments in the United States by oil-rich countries.

Only in 1988, under the Exon-Florio amendment to the 1950 Defense Production Act, did CFIUS get the job of recommending whether the president should suspend or prohibit foreign acquisitions or startups on national security grounds. Any committee member can order up an investigation within three years of a deal, and the president can demand divestiture by the foreign owner.

The Treasury secretary heads the committee, which includes the members of the Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and State departments, the Office of Management and Budget, Council of Economic Advisers, National Security Council, National Economic Council, Office of Science and Technology Policy and Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Other agencies sometimes participate.

Since 1988, the committee has reviewed more than 1,750 foreign investments for national security reasons. Only 25 cases have gone to full investigation, 12 of which were referred to the president for a decision. Only one was disapproved. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush ordered a state-owned Chinese firm to divest itself of its interest in a company that made aircraft components.

When the committee receives notification that a deal is in the works, it conducts a 30-day review, as it did with DP World, and reaches consensus on a go/no-go decision. If any agency sees a threat, the committee conducts a 45-day investigation. In the Dubai ports case, the committee recommended that the president greenlight the deal after the 30-day review, but now has undertaken a more thorough 45-day investigation. Since the Dubai deal, lawmakers are seeking changes in national security reviews of foreign investments that could include abolishing the committee.

Who Knew?

  • 400,000 The number by which the Defense Department has reduced its civilian workforce since the first round of base closings in 1998
  • 300,000 The number of civilian employees Defense wants to move into jobs previously performed by uniformed personnel
  • 20,000 Military positions converted to civilian jobs in fiscal 2004 and 2005
  • 10,000 Positions expected to be converted in 2006 and 2007
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