At State, you lose some, you keep some

Al Kamen
Columnist January 22, 2013

A major opening at the State Department: We’re hearing that highly regarded Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides has decided to decline Secretary-designate John F. Kerry’s offer that he stay on for up to a year for the transition.

Nides, the deputy secretary for management, apparently told Kerry on Friday that he wanted to move on after two years on the job and would leave in February.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

It’s not clear whether Nides, who had also been on the short list to be President Obama’s chief of staff, has anything lined up for when he leaves. Maybe a bit of downtime? Before you break out the checkbooks to tide him over, let’s review his résumé.

After working as chief of staff for then-House Speaker Tom Foley and with a similar title at the U.S. trade representative’s office in 1993, Nides worked at Fannie Mae, then was president and chief executive of Burson-Marsteller, then CEO of Credit Suisse First Boston and chief operating officer of Morgan Stanley. So he should be okay for a while.

The department’s other deputy secretary, Bill Burns , has agreed to stay to help with the transition. And we’re hearing that a substantial number of senior officials are also willing to extend. (One State official said they were “digging in,” but that seems a bit unkind.)

Meanwhile, some ambassadorships, including a few of the most highly prized, appear to be headed to some of the top Obama bundlers and contributors.

As we’ve written, Matthew Barzun , Obama’s 2008 finance chairman, then ambassador to Sweden and again Obama’s 2012 finance chairman, is the odds-on favorite to become the ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, a.k.a. Britain.

John Emerson, a Clinton White House aide and in recent years a Los Angeles mega-fundraiser for Democrats and Obama, is said to be a leading contender for Germany.

Another major bundler and contributor, Marc Lasry , who’s the chairman and CEO of the hedge fund Avenue Capital Group, is being talked about for Paris.

And local lawyer and huge bundler and contributor John Phillips is the leading pick for Rome. (Yes, the Loop was passed over once again.) Phillips’s wife, Linda Douglass , is a former longtime ABC News correspondent, Obama 2008 campaign aide and then the administration’s chief health-care spokeswoman. She is now head of corporate and strategic communications for the Atlantic.

Phillips, who has been eyeing that Rome post for a while, happens to own what some call a town — really just a village — in Tuscany. The ambassador’s residence in central Rome, Villa Taverna, is a great sprawling house set in a lovely garden complete with swimming pool, tennis court and fountains.

It’s certainly on a par, we’re told by someone who has stayed there, with Borgo Finocchieto, Phillips’s mountaintop village, with a manor house and four villas on six acres. Also a pool, a tennis court and a staff of 19.

Well, it takes a village.

Another Udall at Interior?

So much for a short list. Add another name to the possible candidates for interior secretary, a post that will be vacant when Ken Salazar departs the agency in March: Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).

We hear that Salazar suggested Udall as a potential replacement, and that his name has been sent to the White House for consideration.

Of course, he wouldn’t be the first interior secretary named Udall. The senator’s father, Stew Udall, was a legendary environmental champion who served under presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

So he’s got a great pedigree, he’s well liked and he’s a Westerner, which is considered desirable in that job.

But he’s hardly a lock. The White House is desperately seeking diversity in its Cabinet picks (because most of the first few nominees were white men), and Udall wouldn’t exactly add to the rainbow.

Other names we’ve heard that might help White House optics include outgoing Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, Office of Personnel Management chief John Berry (who would be the first openly gay Cabinet secretary), and Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

Then there’s the fact that Republican Gov. Susana Martinez would be the one to appoint Udall’s replacement for the two years remaining in his term — meaning Democrats would probably lose a Senate seat.

Besides, Udall has reason to be pretty comfortable where he is. He was recently named to the powerful Appropriations Committee and is running for reelection in 2014.

Broadcasting Board woes

It’s not often that an inspector general’s report uses the word “dysfunctional” several times.

But the Broadcasting Board of Governors — which oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio and (the un-watched) TV Marti, Radio Free Asia and so on — has managed to earn that.

And, after reading the 23-page report, it’s hard not to conclude that the chronically troubled agency desperately needs a top-to-bottom overhaul.

The BBG’s “dysfunction stems from a flawed legislative structure and acute internal dissension,” the report concludes, noting that a part-time board “cannot effectively supervise” the operations.

There are openings on the nine-member board, but before you sign up, the report found that “board dynamics are characterized by a degree of hostility that renders its deliberative process ineffectual.”

“Board meetings are dominated by one member” — apparently Victor Ashe , a former Republican mayor of Knoxville, Tenn., and President George W. Bush’s ambassador to Poland — “whose tactics and personal attacks on colleagues and staff have created an unprofessional and unproductive atmosphere.”

But the IG said the overall board is hampered by “chronic vacancies and absences of board members,” “fails to stand by its own decisions”and conducts “disorganized” meetings. The members have failed to “impose discipline” on Ashe, the report said, and because the others “have allowed the tactics of one [member] to hamstring the board, they bear some responsibility for its being dysfunctional.”

Before we could call him, Ashe e-mailed us a response to the report, saying the unnamed governor was “undoubtedly me.” The IG “failed to identify a
single area of waste” in the $730 million operation, he wrote, and “failed to discuss the low morale” at the broadcasting units.

Ashe noted that he “had a perfect attendance record” at board meetings and has “raised numerous issues” on matters such as “waste, low morale . . . and excessive travel to international conferences.”

For its part, the board said in a statement Friday — Ashe withdrew his support for it over the weekend — that “the BBG appreciates the work” by the IG’s team and that the members “take their findings seriously and have enacted some of the recommended actions.”

Quite unclear whether the dysfunctional Congress can improve the situation.

Kirk, out

As expected for a couple of months, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk , the former mayor of Dallas, announced Tuesday that he’s leaving the administration at the end of February. He had told President Obama of his intentions shortly after the election in November.

Possible successors include Fred Hochberg, chairman of the Export-Import Bank; Francisco J. Sanchez , undersecretary of commerce for international trade; and Jeff Zients , acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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