The Tragic Tale Of Thomas Selfridge

Originally published on the FAA’s internal website and at Medium
By K. Daniel Glover

Thomas Selfridge (left) with Alexander Graham Bell, who recruited the military aviator for his Aerial Experiment Association that was competing with the Wright Brothers to be the first in flight (Photo: Air National Guard)

Most pioneer aviators are known for their famous flights, but one of them is best remembered for a fatal flight. Thomas Selfridge became the first person to die in a motorized aircraft accident 109 years ago this September. He was 26 years old.

The tragedy occurred at a key point in aviation history, as the U.S. Army considered a contract to buy airplanes from the Wright brothers. Orville Wright was at the controls of the Wright Flyer that day, nearly five years after he and his brother, Wilbur, made history with flights at Kitty Hawk, N.C. Selfridge, an Army lieutenant with an aviation background, was his passenger — a concession that Orville Wright made reluctantly to try to win the contract.

The two were in the air above Fort Myer, Va., for just a few minutes when a propeller malfunction triggered a chain of events that sent the aircraft plummeting to the ground. Wright survived the accident with severe injuries, but Selfridge never recovered from a fractured skull.

A storied history of Selfridge success
The Selfridge surname was well established in military circles before Thomas Etholen Selfridge was born in 1882. His grandfather and uncle, who shared the name Thomas O., had distinguished Navy careers. Both rose to the rank of rear admiral, and the uncle led an expedition related to the Panama Canal.

Thomas E. Selfridge’s brother, Edward, also was part of an important event in U.S. history. He was part of an infantry regiment that supported future President Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders at San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War. “They were a pretty prominent family,” said Dan Heaton, who wrote a book about Thomas E. Selfridge while serving at the Air National Guard base in Michigan that bears the family name.

Selfridge (Photo: Air National Guard)

Like his grandfather and uncle, Thomas E. Selfridge excelled in the military, and he did it at a young age. He was chosen as an alternate to the U.S. Naval Academy while he was still underage, and a year later, he won an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He graduated in 1903, the year of the Wright brothers’ first motorized flights.

A native of San Francisco, Selfridge headed back home for his first assignment. He was at the Presidio during the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that devastated the City by the Bay in 1906, a tragedy that prompted a declaration of martial law. As a young lieutenant, he did such a remarkable job during search-and-rescue and cleanup operations that the Army gave him the choice of his next assignment. He opted to teach at West Point for a year and think about it.

While Selfridge was at the academy, Heaton said he wrote a letter to ask the Wright brothers if he could help in their workshop. But they didn’t want someone from the federal government watching them work on an innovative machine the government might want to buy.

Rebuffed by the Wright Brothers, Selfridge instead went to work for Alexander Graham Bell, who turned his attention to aviation and other interests after inventing the telephone. At Bell’s request, President Roosevelt assigned Selfridge to the Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Signal Corps in 1907. The corps assigned him to the Bell-funded Aerial Experiment Association for a year of research into an aircraft meant to compete with the Wright brothers’ work. Selfridge eventually piloted — and crashed into the water — an unpowered, tetrahedral kite called Cygnet.
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The Aviatrix Whose Name Lives In Infamy

Originally published on the FAA’s internal website and at Medium
By K. Daniel Glover

Laura Houghtaling Ingalls might well have been one of those rare children capable of being whatever she wanted to be.

Laura Houghtaling Ingalls earned fame as a daredevil, speed and distance pilot in the 1930s but ruined her reputation by aligning with Nazis. (Photo: Monash University in Australia)

Born to the heirs of a tea fortune, she led a privileged life that included New York private schools and time studying music and language in Paris and Vienna. In an era where women had limited options outside the home, she worked not only as a secretary and nurse, but also as a pianist and vaudeville dancer. Then Ingalls found her calling in a relatively new field — aviation.

That choice initially made her a celebrity among the likes of Amelia Earhart and Ruth Elder. Ingalls set numerous records as a stunt pilot and achieved multiple firsts as an aviatrix. Eighty-seven years ago this month, she set a record of 714 consecutive barrel rolls, and a few years later she earned an international award for a solo flight around South America.

But as war with Germany loomed in the late 1930s, Ingalls made some choices that sent her aviation career into a nosedive from which she never recovered. She ended up in trouble with the Civil Aeronautics Authority and eventually spent time in jail for ties to the Nazis. For the rest of her life, Ingalls lobbied unsuccessfully for a presidential pardon.

A ‘darling of aviation’ soars
It is perhaps fitting that controversy surrounds the birthdate of a figure as controversial as Ingalls. She was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., sometime between 1893 (the date on her headstone) and a decade later, according to conflicting documents and her own vague court testimony in 1942. Ingalls was the daughter of Francis Ingalls and Martha Houghtaling, whose father was a wealthy tea merchant. The Ingalls family later gained another connection to affluence when Laura Ingalls’ brother married a granddaughter of powerful banker J.P. Morgan.

Laura Ingalls (left) descends from a TWA “Sky Chief” with Amelia Earhart in 1935. (Photo: Kansas Memory)

Although no known historical accounts explain why, Ingalls turned her attention to aviation in 1928. On Dec. 23, she flew solo for the first time over Roosevelt Island in New York and then went to the Universal Flying School in St. Louis. She was one of the first women to earn a federal commercial transport license from the Department of Commerce’s Aeronautics Branch, a classification that authorized her to fly any airplane on approved transport routes.

Less than a year after enrolling in the flying school, Ingalls set her first record in women’s aviation — 344 consecutive loops over Lambert-St. Louis Field. Although she bested the previous record of 46 loops by nearly 300, she told reporters she was “terribly disappointed” that a pause to pump gas from a reserve tank meant another 66 loops didn’t count.

She overcame her disappointment like the overachiever she was — by shattering her own record less than a month later. Ingalls flew 980 consecutive loops over nearly four hours in the air at Hatbox-Municipal Airport in Oklahoma, a feat that won her hundreds of dollars. “I was offered a dollar apiece for every loop I made over my record of 344,” she told one reporter.

That was just the beginning of a years-long stretch of records and firsts for Ingalls. The record for consecutive barrel rolls came next. Ingalls did 714 of them, besting the women’s record by 647 and the men’s mark by 297.

She shifted her aviation focus to speed and distance records after that milestone. Over the next several weeks, she finished third in the Women’s Dixie Derby from Washington, D.C., to Chicago, and then set the women’s transcontinental round-trip record — 30 hours and 25 minutes to get from New York to California, and 25 hours and 20 minutes to return. In that age of daredevils, Jessie Maude Keith-Miller and later Amelia Earhart quickly broke Ingalls’ record, but Ingalls reclaimed the west-east transcontinental record in 1935.
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How Air Force One Got Its Name

Columbine II takes off from Marana, Ariz., in March. (Photo: Ramon Purcell)

Columbine II takes off from Marana, Ariz., in March. (Photo: Ramon Purcell)

Originally published on the FAA’s internal website and at Medium
By K. Daniel Glover

Piecing together history can be as difficult as solving a complex jigsaw puzzle, and sometimes you never can fill all the slots. So it is with determining the exact role the FAA played in naming the president’s airplane — but the agency definitely was part of the discussion back in 1954.

The origin of the call sign Air Force One became newsworthy this past March when a restored Lockheed Constellation took flight for the first time in more than a decade. The aircraft’s given name is Columbine II, but it was also the first presidential aircraft to be called Air Force One. Now the plane’s new owner, Karl Stoltzfus of Dynamic Aviation in Bridgewater, Va., wants everyone to know the true story behind the name, not the myths floating around the Internet.

“I’m not interested in a ‘better’ story,” said Stoltzfus, who has contacted presidential and Air Force historians and the former personal secretary of Air Force One pilot William Draper. “I’m interested in accurate history.”

A crowd greets Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, as they exit Columbine II. (Photo: First Air Force One/Facebook)

A crowd greets Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, as they exit Columbine II. (Photo: First Air Force One/Facebook)

The history of Columbine II began at a Lockheed factory in Burbank, Calif., in 1948. It left the plant with the tail number 48–610, a designation that would become important six years later. Lockheed Air Service used the plane for shuttle flights between New York and Iceland for a few months in 1949, but it was converted from military transport to a VIP aircraft in 1950.

This particular Constellation served the U.S. Air Force secretary until Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president in November 1952. The plane’s first mission for the president-elect fulfilled his campaign promise to personally visit Korea in an effort to end the Korean War. Weeks later the plane officially became Eisenhower’s aircraft, and he named it Columbine II after the flower of wife Mamie Eisenhower’s adopted home state, Colorado.

The transfer of the plane to presidential service set the stage for a momentous air traffic control encounter involving Columbine II and a commercial flight with a similar call sign. But nailing down the details of that incident is a herculean research task.

“There are about six different urban legends out there on the Internet,” said Air Force historian Robert Spiers, who started the legwork in 2007 after numerous queries about how Air Force One got its name. Some stories, like the fanciful tale of a mid-air collision that damaged the undercarriage of Columbine II with Eisenhower on board, are far-fetched.

“If that had actually happened,” Spiers said, “it would have been all over the media.”

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There’s A Cougar In Them Thar Hills

Originally published at Medium
By K. Daniel Glover

There are no cougars in Wayne County, W.Va. By official accounts, there are no cougars anywhere in wild, wonderful West Virginia. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in 2011 that the eastern cougar is no longer endangered because it is extinct.

But for a few days last month, a Prichard, W.Va., man named J.R. Hundley deceived a whole bunch of gullible people on Facebook into thinking he had seen one near his house. “I think he killed my [pit bull]! Something tore him up pretty bad,” Hundley wrote Dec. 16.

When asked by Facebook readers, Hundley divulged phony details about the origins of the picture. He implied that he took the photo on “my driveway up the hill to my house” on Lower Gragston Creek Road. When one reader voiced concern about a free-roaming mountain lion killing pets and livestock, Hundley even offered this reassurance about the one he never actually saw: “I was gone, came home and found him. He wasn’t mean at all!”

Nearly 1,600 people shared his warning about a puma on the prowl in the hills, and another 600 liked it. You could tell from the comments that locals wanted to believe it was true, if only to justify their unfounded fears that mountain lions are in the area. Some people spread rumors of their own.

“We saw one cross the road in Prichard a few years ago in front of us, but it was black,” Carrie Ann Bragg wrote. Kathy Baker Rice shared this tale: “I saw one on Bear Creek a few years ago, just about three miles from Buchanan, Ky., which is across the Big Sandy River from Prichard. Huge.”

Cara Nelson-Hall suggested that the mountain lion Hundley imagined was not alone. “They’re on Davis branch. We hear them,” she said. And Jim Reed cried conspiracy by state game officials. “I bet DNR released him out there, lol,” he said half-jokingly. “I would call them and ask them if they did and tell them to pay [you] for your pit bull.”

Appalachian Magazine bought into Hundley’s story, touting it and other alleged sightings of mountain lions in Appalachia under the headline “Mountain Lion Sighted in West Virginia.” Several readers told their own cougar tales in the comments of the magazine’s Facebook page and ridiculed the doubters.

“Anyone that thinks there are no panthers in West Virginia is a fool,” Opal Marcum said. “They are in Wayne County, Mingo County and Logan County for sure. Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they don’t see you.”

But discerning readers quickly pegged Hundley as a hoaxer. “Also look out for the notorious Sasquatch,” Travis Boone mocked. “He’s around too!!”

Some critics assumed that the picture was real and that Hundley edited a mountain lion into it. But as it turns out, the entire photo is real (along with a second one like it). Hundley just didn’t take it.

The photos were published on three Facebook pages, Hunting Trophy Trips, Oregon Outdoor Hunters and Oregon Outdoor Council. Oregon State University forestry student Hayden England saw the cougar March 10 while working in the field near Vida, Ore., and the McKenzie River.
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Danny’s Nightmare Aboard Betty’s Dream

Co-pilot Bill Miller (left) and pilot Alan Miller pose in front of Betty’s Dream in May 2015 after a practice run for the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover. (Photo: K. Daniel Glover)

Co-pilot Bill Miller (left) and pilot Alan Miller pose in front of Betty’s Dream in May 2015 after a practice run for the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover. (Photo: K. Daniel Glover)

Originally published on the FAA’s internal website and at Medium
By K. Daniel Glover

If one slogan could capture my thoughts at lunchtime on May 7, this would be it: “I flew in the belly of a B-25 bomber, and all I got was this lousy motion sickness bag.” That’s how I felt as I exited the floor hatch of Betty’s Dream, stepped onto the tarmac at Culpeper Regional Airport in Virginia and inhaled a much-needed breath of fresh air after a rough flight.

But if a pilot in the Commemorative Air Force had asked me later that day whether I’d ever want to fly in a World War II aircraft again, I probably would have said, “When do we take off?” I don’t think I could resist an adventure like that — even though I get anxious about flying in general and even after having endured the worst flight of my life.

I am a writer for the Federal Aviation Administration and talked my way onto Betty’s Dream while reporting an advance story on the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover for the agency’s internal website. With several high-profile media outlets covering the event, I figured my chances of getting a seat were slim but made my pitch anyway for a flight with good video potential.

Two months and many pestering emails later, I finally heard from Leah Block at CAF: “I will put you on one of the trainers, so you should be able to take some great shots. … You will fly from Culpeper. In the air about an hour.”

The writer originally was scheduled to fly in this Stearman trainer. (Photo: K. Daniel Glover)

The writer originally was scheduled to fly in this
Stearman trainer. (Photo: K. Daniel Glover)

And that’s the point at which my nerves began to fray. The journalist who practically begged for a seat in a 70-year-old warbird suddenly remembered he used to drive up to 10 hours one way for assignments in order to avoid flying in modern aircraft.

When I asked to fly along, I thought I’d be in the air a half-hour max. Fifteen minutes would have been plenty. Now I was looking at an hour in a “trainer”? I didn’t even know what that meant until I clicked to the Arsenal of Democracy website again.

Then I started asking frantic questions. “Do you know yet what type of trainer I will be flying in? And just to prepare myself mentally for the experience, what maneuvers can I expect in the air? My co-worker who is a pilot said I probably want to avoid being turned upside down.”

That was an understatement. I definitely did not want to be part of any acrobatic maneuvers, but I couldn’t bring myself to openly admit that.

Leah reassured me that the flight — later confirmed to be on this Stearman biplane so I could get the best GoPro footage — should be relatively calm and that the pilots had been told not to subject us newbies to any “funny business.” But I was on edge for the next 10 days.

By the morning of the flight, I was more excited than nervous — at least for a few hours. I stopped at a 7–11 on the way to Culpeper to check for Dramamine, but the store did not have the non-drowsy formula. I opted for alertness over peace of stomach, a bad choice in hindsight.

World War II aircraft filled the tarmac at Culpeper Regional Airport earlier this month in preparation for the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover. (Photo: K. Daniel Glover)

World War II aircraft filled the tarmac at Culpeper Regional Airport earlier this month in preparation for the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover. (Photo: K. Daniel Glover)

I was in awe as I drove past the airfield and saw the array of aircraft on the tarmac. My favorites were the P-51 Mustangs and F4U Corsairs, the latter of which I remembered best from the short-lived 1970s television series “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”

I went to work after registering at the press office. I snapped a few photos of the warbirds from a distance, listened to part of the pre-flight safety briefing for all pilots and attended a short press conference.

Andrew McKenna, who owns and flies a P-51 Mustang and a North American T-6 Texan, talks with a colleague during a pre-flight safety briefing. (Photo: K. Daniel Glover)

Andrew McKenna, who owns and flies a P-51 Mustang and a North American T-6 Texan, talks with a colleague during a pre-flight safety briefing. (Photo: K. Daniel Glover)

Soon after the press conference, a guide pointed a few of us toward the Stearman planes. We found our designated rides by using the tail numbers on our press badges.

“I’m now at my assigned plane — and pretty well terrified,” I posted to Facebook at 10:07 a.m. My hands were shaking uncontrollably, and my legs were wobbly. I couldn’t even picture myself maintaining enough composure to climb (or fall) into a plane that small, let alone fly in it for an hour without having a panic attack.

Fortunately I only had to ponder that potentially embarrassing fate for a few minutes. When owner/co-pilot John Weyrich arrived, he said he hadn’t realized the ride-along was part of a practice run for the flyover the next day. That being the case, he didn’t have a spare seat for me — but the event organizers found me another spot on a B-25 Mitchell.

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Policy Storms Of The Century

Originally published at National Journal
By K. Daniel Glover

Meteorologically speaking, the hurricane that slammed into the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29 died days later in the northern part of the continent. Politically speaking, Katrina is very much alive, and its eye has settled over Washington for the foreseeable future.

Shortly after the storm, Congress cleared two emergency spending bills totaling more than $60 billion. And lawmakers, as is typical, are also trying to make sure that their pet policy ideas ride the hurricane-induced legislative wave moving through the capital. But the real test of Katrina’s staying power will be whether the storm spawns substantive changes in federal disaster mitigation, just as its most infamous atmospheric siblings have done in the past.

Throughout history, hurricanes have captured the attention of government leaders, and President William McKinley was chief among them. Raymond Arsenault, a historian at the University of South Florida, recently noted on the History News Network that the near-annihilation of Cedar Key, Fla., and the deaths of more than 100 people in an 1896 hurricane made a lasting impression on McKinley — one that eventually influenced his military strategy.

“I am more afraid of West Indian hurricanes than I am of the entire Spanish navy,” McKinley said at the start of the Spanish-American War some two years later. That fear inspired the president to order the creation of a hurricane warning system designed to protect vessels in the Caribbean Sea.

Congress, for its part, has long been responding to hurricanes and other disasters by providing monetary relief. In a 1950 document printed in the Congressional Record, Rep. Harold Hagen, R-Minn., charted such federal aid back to 1803. Lawmakers have provided aid in the wake of everything from “Indian depredations” in the mid-1800s, to “grasshopper ravages” in the 1870s, to the kinds of disasters more familiar today: tornadoes, droughts, earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, and hurricanes.

The earliest hurricane-related federal spending that Hagen recorded came in 1928, after a September storm hit Puerto Rico. Congress provided $8.1 million to rehabilitate agriculture and schoolhouses and to purchase seeds. Two years later, lawmakers allocated $1 million to cover repair work by the Puerto Rican Hurricane Relief Commission, and they gave the commission loan breaks in 1935. Another $5 million went toward forest rehabilitation in New England after a hurricane struck there in September 1938.

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A Blogospheric Eruption Over Hawaii’s Future

Originally published at NationalJournal.com
By K. Daniel Glover

Back in 1893, a small band of U.S. Marines, acting at the behest of a renegade U.S. diplomat and greedy businessmen, staged a successful coup against Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii. President Grover Cleveland fired the diplomat, condemned the “subversion of the queen’s government,” and urged Congress to seek a solution “consistent with American honor, integrity and morality.”

Instead, the United States annexed Hawaii in 1898. And in the century since then — even after Hawaii voted overwhelmingly to become the 50th state in 1959 — battles over the sovereignty of the Aloha State have continued to erupt. In 1993, for instance, the U.S. government officially apologized to Hawaiians for the overthrow of their monarchy.

The latest fight is over “the Akaka bill” in Congress, and blogs have become a weapon in the ongoing warfare over that legislation. From Hawaii to Washington, blogs both large and small, with audiences national and regional, have demonstrated the power of their technology to explore a niche topic in great detail and to try to rally opposition to a relatively obscure proposal.

The bill, authored by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, would recognize native Hawaiians much like the federal government recognizes Indian tribes. That step would make Hawaiians who meet certain ethnic standards eligible for federal aid in education, housing and other arenas.

Although the measure has the support of the state’s congressional delegation and its governor, some Hawaiians still want to live in a sovereign nation and see the bill as a threat to that goal. Some conservatives, meanwhile, oppose the measure on racial grounds because it would grant federal aid based on Hawaiians’ blood lineage.

Opponents from both angles are blogging against the legislation. Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin’s rants are generating the most attention because of her broad readership. She dubbed the measure “the worst bill you’ve never heard of” and has characterized it as “apartheid in Hawaii.”
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Prevailing Views On Prevailing Wages

Originally published at National Journal
K. Daniel Glover

One of President Bush’s first steps in response to Hurricane Katrina was to suspend the law that governs the wages of workers who construct federal facilities. The move means that contractors involved in federal reconstruction within the hurricane zone can pay workers less than the average wage for the Gulf Coast region.

The 1931 Davis-Bacon Act allows the president to take such unilateral action during national emergencies, but organized labor and its allies in Congress are furious nonetheless. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., has introduced a bill to overturn Bush’s decision, and the measure now has 204 co-sponsors. On TPMCafe, a liberal Web log, Miller has called Bush “immoral” for, in effect, cutting the wages of Gulf Coast construction workers from an already low $7-to-$8 per hour to the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour.

The ongoing debate has once again put a spotlight on the 1931 law, which caused minimal concern in Congress when it was enacted, but which has prompted numerous calls for its repeal since. “If you tried to pass Davis-Bacon again, it would never pass — and Bush wouldn’t sign it if it did pass,” said law professor David Bernstein, who wrote about the act in a 2001 book, Only One Place of Redress: African-Americans, Labor Regulations, and the Courts From Reconstruction to the New Deal. “But it’s always harder to repeal.”

The idea of guaranteeing a certain wage on federal construction projects in order to combat “cheap, imported labor” was not always popular. Although Kansas passed the first state law on the subject in 1891, the idea did not take solid root at the federal level until more than 35 years later, when protecting local wages became a pet issue of Rep. Robert Bacon, R-N.Y. And even then, it was largely a personal crusade spurred when in 1927, an Alabama contractor who paid lower wages won a bid to build a veterans’ hospital in Bacon’s Long Island district.

Based on that episode, Bacon introduced a bill to regulate wages on federal projects. Over the next four years, according to Bernstein’s research, Bacon introduced another 13 bills to regulate the labor force on such projects, and Congress held hearings on the issue in 1928, 1930, and 1931. Rep. Elliott Sproul, R-Ill., filed the first bill to mandate the local prevailing wage in 1930, and Bacon incorporated the idea into his own legislation a year later.

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Sunshine Has Never Been Easy

Originally published at National Journal
By K. Daniel Glover

Advocates of open access to government documents are pushing for another update to the Freedom of Information Act, and they have the support of some key members of Congress. In June, the Senate passed legislation expanding FOIA that was sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the panel’s ranking member, and they have other FOIA bills in the pipeline. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the chairman of a House Judiciary subcommittee, is pushing companion legislation.

Strengthening FOIA may be difficult, however. Jane Kirtley, director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota, said that the emphasis on security since the 9/11 terrorist attacks makes reform a challenge. The Bush administration has been more secretive since then, she said, and the public is also “very concerned that openness makes terrorists’ activities that much easier.”

The circumstances today resemble those in the 1950s, when the initial congressional push for FOIA began. And back then, amid concerns about releasing sensitive data during the Cold War, it took 11 years to get the concept of “freedom of information” written into law.

FOIA was the brainchild of newspaper editors and writers. But their movement made little progress until Rep. John Moss, D-Calif., took his seat on the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee and was denied information he had requested from the Civil Service Commission. “I was convinced that if there was such a readiness to withhold information from Congress,” Moss said in a 1965 interview, “they must be withholding on a massive basis from the public and from others with less leverage.”

When Democrats regained House control in 1955 and Moss won a slot on the Government Operations Committee, he persuaded the chairman to investigate the issue. A preliminary study confirmed Moss’s suspicions, and he was named chairman of a new subcommittee to explore the topic further. The panel held its first hearing in 1955.

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The Road To Presidential Veto

Originally published at National Journal
By K. Daniel Glover

This year’s debate over transportation spending may be decided by presidential veto — or by Congress’s override of the veto threatened by President Bush. If such a battle over roads ensues, it will not be the first. Andrew Jackson vetoed the Maysville Road bill in 1830, and he killed it for reasons similar to those underlying opposition to the current measure: concerns about federal spending in general and federal aid for “local” infrastructure projects in particular.

This year’s highway bill includes earmarks for thousands of such projects — and has raised complaints about the costs. But Jackson’s veto remains one of the most noteworthy in U.S. history, not only because it strengthened presidential prerogative but also because it deterred lawmakers from funneling money back to their states. “It stopped ‘internal improvements’ for quite some time,” said historian Robert V. Remini, who has authored numerous books on Andrew Jackson.

The conflict over the Maysville Road pitted the president and two future presidents, Martin Van Buren and James Polk, against a wannabe president, Henry Clay, and it was rooted in the nation’s long-standing division over whether Congress possessed the authority to fund roads, canals, and other internal improvements. Many leaders of the early Republic, including Presidents James Madison and James Monroe, argued that the Constitution reserved that power to the states. But Clay, whose political career included stints in the House and Senate, advocated such expenditures as part of his “American System” for promoting national progress and unity.

Clay was not in Congress when the Maysville Road bill was debated, but his ally and fellow Kentuckian, Robert Letcher, wrote the House measure. The road was to start at Maysville, Ky., along the Ohio River and run south to Lexington. The legislation authorized spending $150,000 to buy stock in the company that was building the road.

When the House began debate in April 1830, Letcher described the measure as “some minor bill that would occupy but little time.” He characterized the road as “a national work,” because it was one piece of a larger road plan designed to run from Zanesville, Ohio, to Florence, Ala. He also argued that the road would “more than compensate” the government for its investment by reducing the cost of transporting mail through Kentucky.

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