Top women in government acknowledged

Two years ago, Leslye Arsht was living in Baghdad, trying to accomplish the nearly impossible task of getting Iraqi schools up and running through construction and teacher-training programs. Yesterday, the Defense Department worker was feted on the top floor of the Library of Congress's Madison Building as one of several recipients of Good Housekeeping magazine's women-in-government awards.

"She put her life on the line every day," said Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), the House Republican caucus chairwoman and the keynote speaker at the event.

Pryce, the top elected Republican woman in the House, said it was good to see more women joining the still male-dominated Congress. "They need us, really," she deadpanned.

Not that women have found solutions to all of the Capitol's most vexing problems. "If Good Housekeeping has any quick and easy Social Security recipes, send them our way," she pleaded.

Some of the women honored came from state government, while others accomplished their goals out of the spotlight - such as Jackie Crawford, director of the Nevada Department of Corrections, who also won an award. "It's about all people who are getting salaries from government," Good Housekeeping Editor in Chief Ellen Levine said, not just those who are elected to public office.

An additional $25,000 prize went to the 68 members of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues. Former Rep. Margaret Heckler (R-Mass.), a founding member of the caucus, said the group's strength was always found in its unity. She said members made a key strategic decision during the group's formative years in the 1970s to sidestep the controversial abortion issue and focus on areas of consensus.

"I cannot debate that subject," she recalled telling the late Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.), "but I am ardent about all the other women's issues."

An award also was presented in honor of Rep. Tillie Fowler (R-Fla.), who died last year. The winner was Frances M. Murphy, a health-policy staffer at the Veterans Health Administration.