The debate over President Clinton's Corporation for National Service is so intense that a fight almost broke out last week over a seemingly minor matter: whether a corporation official would be considered a witness or an aide to a witness at a congressional hearing.
The dispute culminated when Harris Wofford, the service agency's chief executive, and Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., a congressional critic of the agency, ended up in a shouting match in the hallway of a House office building. At one point, Mr. Wofford was wagging his finger at Mr. Hoekstra's chest.
Eventually the two came to terms under which Mr. Hoekstra's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee may be able to question Gary Kowalczyk, the corporation's acting chief financial officer, about 100 irregularities uncovered in a recent audit of the agency's books.
Until Tuesday of last week, Mr. Hoekstra thought Mr. Kowalczyk would testify and answer questions from House members at a hearing the next day.
Mr. Hoekstra, a national-service supporter who has turned into one of its top critics, said he was eager to know how and when the corporation would clear its books, especially since Mr. Clinton wants to use its workers as part of his proposed literacy initiative.
"Any money that we send over there is unauditable," Rep. Hoekstra said at a news conference he called after canceling the Sept. 11 hearing when he learned that Mr. Kowalczyk intended to let Mr. Wofford do the talking. "Funding an organization like that would not be the best thing to do."
As he left the news conference, Mr. Hoekstra and Mr. Wofford, a former Democratic senator from Pennsylvania, argued vehemently over the terms of their agreement.
"I said he would be there and would be able to answer questions," Mr. Wofford said in the heat of the argument, jabbing his finger at Mr. Hoekstra's chest.
Rep. Thomas Sawyer, D-Ohio, stepped in to mediate, asking Rep. Hoekstra if he wanted anything more than that from Mr. Kowalczyk. Mr. Hoekstra said he did not, easing the tension.
Rep. Sawyer had the last word on the exchange: "How absurd."
--DAVID J. HOFF firstname.lastname@example.org