AIDE-LOBBYIST MEETS WITH SHUSTER AS PANEL VOTES ON SHIPPING BILL

AIDE-LOBBYIST MEETS WITH SHUSTER AS PANEL VOTES ON SHIPPING BILL

When the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 1995 on Wednesday, Chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa., was in a back committee room meeting with Ann M. Eppard, a top political aide who is also a lobbyist for ocean shipping lines.

It would be illegal under federal lobbying laws for Ms. Eppard to urge him to take any official action on behalf of her clients. Ms. Eppard left her job as Rep. Shuster's chief of staff last November, but she continues to work for him as a fund-raiser and adviser on district political matters.Jeff Nelligan, a spokesman for the committee, said Rep. Shuster and Ms. Eppard met to discuss the Letterkenney Army Depot near Chambersburg, Pa., which has been targeted for cuts by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment

Commission.

Ms. Eppard, who is being paid $3,000 a month by Rep. Shuster's re-election campaign committee, served recently on a local base-closure advisory board at Rep. Shuster's request.

At the same time, she is among a group of lobbyists retained by the Ocean Common Carriers Coalition, a group composed largely of U.S. ship lines, which favors the ocean shipping deregulation bill that would eliminate the Federal Maritime Commission by October 1997.

Ms. Eppard is also a lobbyist for the government-owned passenger rail service Amtrak and the Philadelphia, Pa.-based freight railroad Conrail. Both Amtrak and Conrail have a major economic stake in an Amtrak reform and a privatization measure that had been tentatively scheduled for action by the committee in Wednesday's meeting.

Only hours before the meeting, Republican committee leaders spiked any action on the Amtrak reform legislation until at least September. The bill is considered crucial to Amtrak's near-term survival.

As of March 31, Ms. Eppard had been paid $81,000 to lobby Congress for 10 clients, virtually all of them with business pending before Rep. Shuster's committee. A 1989 ethics law precludes her from lobbying Rep. Shuster within one year of leaving his congressional payroll. However, She may lobby other members of Congress and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's staff.

Ms. Eppard had worked in Rep. Shuster's office since he was first elected in 1972, most recently as chief of staff.

Both Ms. Eppard and Rep. Shuster say they have been assured by officials at the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct that it is legal for Ms. Eppard to continue to work for Rep. Shuster's campaign committee and advise him on district matters while operating a lobbying firm.

Lawyers at Common Cause, a group that has advocated reform of federal lobbying laws, have said the allowance for Ms. Eppard is based on a legal loophole that should be closed.

The Base Closure Commission recommended cuts at Letterkenney on June 23. The depot's roles in maintenance of towed and self-propelled combat vehicles and tactical missiles are to be transferred to Anniston, Ala., and Tobyhanna, Pa. Under the recommendation, which has been approved by the Clinton administration, the depot would continue to be used for disassembly and storage of conventional ammunition and tactical missiles, said Wade Nelson, the commission's communications director.

"A fair amount of work is being sent away from Letterkenney Army Depot," Mr. Nelson said.

The shift is expected to result in the elimination of 1,317 civilian jobs and the transfer of another 823. Approximately 800 civilian jobs would remain, according to the Army's estimate, Mr. Nelson said.