THE DEAN RETIRES
Helen Thomas, the White House correspondent for United Press International for nearly 40 years, retired yesterday, a day after UPI was sold for the fourth time in two decades. She got a salute from President Clinton, the eighth president she had covered.
"United Press International is a great news agency," she said. "It has made a remarkable mark in the annals of American journalism and has left a superb legacy for future journalists. I wish the new owners all the best, great stories, and happy landings."
UPI was sold Monday to News World Communications Inc., publishers of The Washington Times and other publications, by a consortium of Saudi Arabian investors that had bought it in 1992 for about $4 million.
"Presidents come and go," Mr. Clinton said yesterday at the beginning of a ceremony in the Rose Garden, "but Helen's been here for 40 years now, covering eight presidents and doubtless showing the ropes to countless young reporters and, I might add, more than a few press secretaries.
"Whatever she decides to do, I'll feel a little better about my country if I know she'll still be spending some time around here at the White House. After all, without her saying, `Thank you, Mr. President,' at least some of us might never have ended our news conferences."
Miss Thomas, a fixture at the White House since the Kennedy administration, was the dean of the White House correspondents, known for her terse, tough questions of presidents, often asking "hardball" questions more timid reporters are reluctant to ask.
The daughter of Lebanese immigrants, Miss Thomas was born in Lexington, Ky., in 1920. She received a bachelor's degree in English from Wayne University in 1942 and came to Washington to work for United Press for $24 a week. She was named UPI's chief White House correspondent in 1970.
The blinding blizzard that buried the nation's capital beneath thigh-high snowdrifts in January still hasn't melted around the desk of Janice R. Lachance, director of the Office of Personnel Management, who was in Iowa campaigning for Vice President Al Gore when the storm struck.
Ms. Lachance waited until 7 a.m. on Jan. 25 - long after many bureaucrats left home to begin the dangerous commute to Washington - to close the federal government.
Now Inside the Beltway learns that all Inspectors General throughout the federal government have been directed to review the travel of all department heads - including Cabinet officials - for any violations of responsibility associated with political activities.
"Political appointees in my department are of course `overjoyed' to be under this added congressional scrutiny during the campaign season," a bureaucrat working beneath one Cabinet head tells this column. …