The Washington Post

Vacancies at Commerce, State drawing criticism

Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Turns out, there are a lot of senior leadership positions going empty at Commerce. And while they’re at it, perhaps the folks there could order a few extra “Help Wanted” signs for their friends over at the State Department, where there’s also a slew of top spots waiting to be filled.

First, at Commerce, Rebecca Blank as been “acting” since former secretary John Bryson resigned in June. She’s planning to leave in May, and it’s expected that President Obama will name hotel scion Penny Pritzker to the job, though extensive vetting of her far-flung financial portfolio may be holding up the announcement.

And now other vacancies are drawing criticism. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), wrote to Blank urging her to press the White House to fill empty posts, including Census Director, the heads of the Patent and Trademark Office and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — all of which fall under the Commerce Department — as well as the department’s chief financial officer. “While I have confidence in the staff temporarily filling these positions, I urge you to prompt the White House to expeditiously appoint persons to these important positions,” Frank wrote.

Frank says he’s worried that the vacant spots will hamper the agencies’ mission. “You ever see the movie ‘Home Alone’?” Frank asked us. “That’s what it’s like over there.”

And at State, the list of unfilled top jobs may be even longer.

Elliott Abrams, who was a State official under former President Ronald Reagan and a special assistant to President George W. Bush, wrote a blistering blog post for the Council on Foreign Relations about the vacant jobs, which include some half-dozen assistant secretary roles.

Abrams’s conclusion is that instead of trotting the globe as he has been, Secretary of State John Kerry should spend more time at Foggy Bottom managing his department (despite the big kudos heaped on past secretaries of state, including Hillary Clinton and Condi Rice, for racking up the frequent-flier miles).

But we hear that candidates have been identified for many of those spots, and, as with Pritzker, it’s vetting — not indecision — that’s keeping them open. Our understanding is that some of the nominations will be coming down the pike in a matter of weeks.

Those cold seats may warm up soon.

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.


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