USOC Looks for New Leader in Washington

(ATR) As a new president prepares to take over the U.S. government, the U.S. Olympic Committee opens the search to find a new leader for its Washington, D.C. office.

(ATR) As a new president prepares to take over the U.S. government, the U.S. Olympic Committee opens the search to find a new leader for its Washington, D.C. office.

After 18 years on the job, USOC government relations chief Steve Bull will leave at the end of the month. He was the first in the post when he started Jan. 1, 1991, shaping the position into what it is today.

As the USOC’s man in Washington, Bull has shepherded U.S. Olympic officials through Congressional hearings, worked on legislation beneficial to U.S. Olympic and Paralympic interests, arranged White House visits, smoothed over visa issues, helped organize presidential delegations to the Olympic Games and last year even got an athlete's passport replaced in an hour.

He did it all without fanfare, preferring to sit in the back row for hearings on Capitol Hill.

"I'm the anonymous guy," he says.

Not "Deep Throat"

Bull was once thought to be the most famous "anonymous guy" in Washington. As President Richard Nixon's special assistant who ran the Oval Office, Bull was often mentioned as a possible "Deep Throat," the notorious source for Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's Watergate investigation. Mark Felt, who died last week, confessed in 2005 that he was Deep Throat.

Bull's experience in the Nixon White House helped him navigate the corridors of power for the USOC.

"Most of the time what we're doing is pretty nifty stuff," Bull tells Around the Rings.

"It is essentially a liaison function, not so much a lobbyist, because really for most of the time I was there, we were never asking for anything -- other than some of the embarrassing periods when we were asking for mercy."

The USOC was hauled before its Congressional oversight board in 2003 when former CEO Lloyd Ward was embroiled in an ethics probe and the organization's governance was in disarray. USOC officials were grilled by Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and the USOC eventually was forced to reorganize its structure.

Olympic officials also had to answer to Congress over what Bull calls "the Salt Lake City unpleasantness," the bidding scandal involving the 2002 Olympic Games.

IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch was even called to testify. "They dragged him in," Bull says. "He came in quite reluctantly. He didn't speak a word of English, he spoke entirely through interpreters."

Other hearings on Capital Hill were more pro-active, involving issues such as anti-doping efforts or the need for special coinage to help fund U.S. Olympic programs. The USOC would provide expert witnesses.

"I'd usually write the testimony and meet with staff and some of the members beforehand, and just kind of shepherd our people through it," Bull says.

He was apolitical and counted friends on both sides of the aisle in Congress.

A USOC Pioneer

"He became our first-ever face in Washington," says Mike Moran, the former USOC chief communications officer who retired in 2003. "We were absolutely impotent in Washington during the two boycotts; we had no muscle.

"Steve was one of the most important USOC excutives in its modern history and he did it off the radar screen, hardly quoted, and managed a very difficult job with a track record of superb success."

Given his tenure in the Oval Office and as an advance man for the 1968 presidential campaign, Bull was comfortable setting up the U.S. Olympic team visits to the White House. He worked with presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

"I think that the people I worked with, regardless of the party, came to recognize that I spoke their language, so we always worked very well together," Bull says.

He says he didn't think Washington insiders seriously thought he was "Deep Throat." "Remember I was pretty close to (Nixon). I went to San Clemente with him after the resignation. I was known as a loyalist. The solace I got is I was in company with other people who were really absurd -- like Pat Buchanan."

Still, whenever his name would appear on a "Deep Throat" list, "I was always mortified," Bull says. "I was a logical candidate because of the nature of my job. I was in effect the president's personal assistant, I ran the Oval Office, therefore I had theoretical access to everything that the president had in writing. I guess I could have, but I didn't listen in on conversations because my office was contiguous to his."

Bull believes that Felt -- whose death last week at age 95 was announced a few hours after Bull spoke to ATR -- was disloyal. "If a guy thinks that the republic is threatened and has knowledge of misdeeds, you don't skulk around behind potted plants at the Watergate, you blow the whistle," Bull says. "And if you're the deputy director of the FBI, you have no excuse for not having taken action to spare the country the misery that it went through during that period of time, so I'm no fan of Mark Felt."

Bull was also accused by Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski of being one of three people who could have caused the famous 18 1/2 minute gap in a crucial White House tape recording. The others were Nixon and his secretary, Rose Mary Woods.

In a "60 Minutes" segment, Bull says, "Jaworski proceeded to eliminate the President and Rose Woods, and I find, 'Hmmmm. This is an uncomfortable position in which to find oneself.'"

He adds, "If I had done it, I would have done it much more expertly. You don't leave a portion of the incriminating conversation on the tape, you would erase all of it."

Working Behind the Scenes

Thoroughness was a part of Bull's job with the USOC, whether it was arranging license plate programs in various states, or being part of presidential delegations to the Olympic Games. Bull accompanied George H.W. Bush, the U.S. honorary chef de mission, to the Beijing Olympics. He'd known the former president since the late 1960s, when Bush was a member of Congress.

Bull says a presidential delegation isn't necessarily welcomed, except in China, which sought affirmation from foreign governments.

"Otherwise, organizers of the Games have enough to worry about without some huge presidential delegation with all the security and press getting in the way," he says. "The head of state of every participating nation is invited, but they are given only two accreditations, so the trick is trying to talk the organizing committee into providing more accreditations."

He also had to talk U.S. embassies into providing visas for foreign athletes.

"You hear all sorts of horror stories over the years about the tough visa policies that the U.S. has, but our experience with consular officers in the Department of State has been almost uniformly positive," Bull says. "They try like heck to help and accommodate us."

He remembers one case when the head of the U.S. softball federation called him to complain that a women's softball team from Colombia had been denied visas at the last minute.

"He was irate at me like it was my fault," Bull says.

The head consular official at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota told him the women had been jumped to the head of the line despite a six-month waiting list just to get a visa appointment. The group was so large, about 25 people, that the team members and staff had to come on two separate days.

"When the second group came in, three or four of the coaches had different names," Bull says. "They ran those names through the computer, and they were known members of the Medillin drug cartel they tried to substitute. So the embassy consular official just said, 'No one's going,' and pulled the plug on it."

He said U.S. passport officials have treated Olympic and elite athletes as "being matters of public interest."

"There's a gold medalist in the last year and half has lost three passports," Bull says. "I'm not going to tell you who he is because he's a nice guy and I don't want to embarrass him."

Bull says his favorite athletes to work with have been the Lopez family: Olympic gold medalist Steven, silver medalist Mark, bronze medalist Diana and older brother Jean, their coach.

"Steve has served the USOC and the greater Olympic Movement with honor and distinction," USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel tells ATR. "The same is true of his service to our country. His work has been critical in creating a much-needed presence and voice for the USOC in Washington. Steve recognized the unique power of sport to bring our world closer together, and that's what he enjoyed most -- helping pave the way for athletes from around the world to train and compete in a spirit of friendship and understanding."

Changes in Washington

Bull has seen changes since he first began working with the USOC in Washington, including the cancellation of the annual Olympic dinner/fundraiser for about 1,300 people. Congressional ethics regulations that went into effect in 2006, Bull says, "were so stringent that even though we had letters of clearance, members of Congress I think were a little gun shy about coming."

He says he has also seen a greater appreciation for and interest in Paralympic and sport for the disabled, plus the growth of women's sport.

The U.S. has become increasingly involved in delivering Paralympic sports to injured active-duty and veteran military personnel, and for the first time Congress has authorized $10 million for the expansion of the Paralympic military program in 2010.

The money hasn't yet been appropriated, though, and Bull's successor will have to go after it.

In the meantime, Bull will do some consulting and volunteer work and plans to get his real estate license and become a senior citizen specialist. "I intend to really focus on my aged cohort," he says, "people my age, guys I've worked with over the years who are looking to downsize or otherwise relocate."

Bull was one of the last of the old guard at the USOC, which has seen many veterans leave the organization. "It was a very good experience and the people are just terrific," Bull says. "The organization is in the best shape I've seen it since I joined it 18 years ago."

Seibel said there is no specific timeline to fill Bull's position, one of three key executive level positions now open at the USOC.

Along with the director of government relations, the USOC is also recruiting for a chief marketing officer and a chief of athlete and national governing body services.

Written by Karen Rosen.