Despite an Office of Management and Budget official's denial that OMB Director Mitch Daniels was involved in the forced resignation of former Army Corps of Engineers head Mike Parker, a frank and sharply worded memo from Daniels indicates he was at least in the loop.
A former House member from Mississippi and a onetime member of the Appropriations Committee, Parker was asked to resign his post as assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works less than a week after bluntly telling the Senate Budget Committee he believed OMB deliberately had shortchanged his agency's fiscal 2003 budget.
Parker also contradicted the administration's campaign against congressional earmarks in an interview with National Journal.
A Feb. 28 memo to White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, Deputy Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and senior Bush political adviser Karl Rove, obtained Thursday, shed light on Daniels' role.
In the memo, Daniels provides--"per your request"--a transcript of the remarks made by Parker and Lt. General Robert Flowers, the Corps' chief of engineers, as well as a few trenchant comments.
Daniels observed that Parker, Flowers and Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., "reached convivial agreement that the president's budget is unacceptable and probably just a cynical ploy on our part."
An administration official pointed out that Daniels' memo came in response to a request and did not advocate that any particular action be taken in response to Parker's testimony.
"This memo says `per your request.' I think that says it all," the official said. "It certainly would be logical for the West Wing to ask OMB for testimony about OMB."
However, the official added, "The West Wing knew about this from many other sources outside of OMB."
The official also emphasized, " This memo doesn't advocate anything--it doesn't advocate any decision."
But Daniels minced few words in describing the exchanges in his memo. He labeled as "totally bogus" Flowers' testimony that the president's budget, which would cut $600 million from the Corps' current spending level, would force the Corps to terminate existing contracts and could lead to the loss of 45,000 jobs.
"This reads badly enough on the printed page, but people who were present were even more emphatic that both Parker and Flowers were distancing themselves actively from the administration," Daniels told the president's domestic advisers.
"The festival was bipartisan," he wrote, noting that he also attached comments criticizing Bush's budget for the Corps by Sen. Christopher (Kit) Bond, R-Mo., who sits on both the Budget and Appropriations Committees.
While Daniels has tangled repeatedly and sometimes bitterly with congressional appropriators, they had received Parker warmly and regarded him as someone they could work with.