How do Obama’s Cabinet members rate?

Al Kamen
Columnist November 15, 2011

So, how well are President Obama’s Cabinet members and top aides doing? Well, not so great — though some far better than others — according to the Partnership for Public Service. The group’s “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” report is avidly studied by federal workers, job seekers and top officials as a barometer on which agencies are performing well and which aren’t, and its 2011 edition is now out.

The massive study slices and dices the data every which way, as our colleague Ed O’Keefe reports. But “a fish rots from the head first,” as Michael Dukakis pointed out in the 1988 presidential campaign, and so we decided to focus on the secretaries and senior aides at the top of the larger agencies.

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

The study says the “Effective Leadership — Senior Leaders” category “measures the level of respect employees have for senior leaders, satisfaction with the amount of information provided by management, and perceptions about senior leaders’ honesty, integrity and ability to motivate employees.” Only five Cabinet members — led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton , who scored 56.9 — managed to get above 50 on a scale of 1 to 100. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner , who, we should point out, never, ever, ever worked at Goldman Sachs, improved by 2.6 points to come in second at 52.3. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano dropped 1.7 and came in last at 41.4.

The not-a-crook files

The latest Richard Nixon texts and tapes are out — including his previously sealed 1975 Watergate grand jury testimony — and scholars and Nixon-philes and ­­
-phobes are poring over the paper carcass.

Initial reports: The Trickster has come through once again, with some revelations — though nothing really new on the 1972 break-in. It was done by what he called “clowns” and “bunglers.”


We’re finally finding out what Richard Nixon told that grand jury. There was a joke about bleeding, for one thing. (CHARLES TASNADI/AP)

He notes, however, that wiretaps and the like were commonplace.

And nothing on the famous 181 / 2 minutes of tape from a key Watergate coverup meeting.

We haven’t had a chance to wallow in depth through the nearly 300 pages of grand jury transcripts, done after a pardon from President Gerald Ford — a pardon that Nixon says he only reluctantly accepted.

Overall, the documents show that “in his own way, Nixon was a great communicator,” says Steven Aftergood , who heads the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists. “His presence and personality are vividly conveyed by the transcript. With Nixon, it was not just business. It was personal.”

Very personal. A colleague points us to Page 94, where Nixon tells the prosecutor that he is taking blood-thinning medication every day at noon.

“That means that if I am ever in an accident and start to bleed I will bleed to death unless the doctor is there within ten minutes,” he reveals. Then he gets off one of the great Nixon lines to Richard Davis , the prosecutor questioning him.

“Want one?”

And on Page 219, Nixon lifts off to another planet, a place where he’s clearly talking to the paintings of former presidents hanging on the wall.

“I would say that our campaigns in ’68 and in 1972,” he testifies, “in terms of what we did, were clean campaigns.”

Well, that depends on what the meaning of the word “clean” is.

Lots and lots of letters

Washington loves nothing more than a steaming bowl of alphabet soup.

From agency names to legislative shorthand, bizarre strings of letters are practically our lingua franca. And this week Congress is teeing up two bills with tortured acronyms.

Legislation setting up savings accounts for disabled people called the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act sounds far catchier when it goes by its initials, ABLE. And even though the title of another bill, Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, is vague, it prevailed based, we assume, on its colorful acronym, REINS.

Why the name game? Aides say it can help a bill stand out in a sea of “Dear Colleague” letters. A spokeswoman for Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), the lead sponsor of the ABLE bill, says a version of the bill has been around for several Congresses under different names. The new name, she says, helps “to focus on the goals of the bill.”

Others say it can help communicate clearly what a bill does (i.e., the REINS act would rein in the executive branch’s power) without getting bogged down in policy. Get it?

Sometimes, a clever title is a marketing ploy aimed at the American people.

Think of the USA PATRIOT Act (much easier to remember than the mouthful that is the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act).

Why, voting against a bill like that would be downright unpatriotic.

Not everyone’s a fan, and there’s plenty of eye-rolling among Hill staffers. Former Senate aide Rodell Mollineau , who’s now president of American Bridge 21st Century, says he’s generally against acronyms, most of which are “just Washington types trying to be too cute by half.”

Have a favorite acronym you’d like to nominate to the Hall of Acronym Shame? We’ll kick it off by humbly submitting
SAFE­TEA-LU
, a.k.a. the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, which Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) named in honor of his wife, Lula.

He should have stuck with flowers.

Fundraising with a bang

Ah, the thrill of the hunt. Now that it’s hunting season, lawmakers are putting small animals — and big dollars — in their crosshairs with a panoply of guns-and-camo fundraisers.

So get the rifle ready, pack warm socks, and be sure to leave Dick Cheney off the invite list.

On Monday morning, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and his pals traded tailored suits for orange vests for a pheasant hunt at the Bristol Mines Farm in King George, Va. Hosts included former senator Bob Dole and former congressman Billy Tauzin , a noted hunting enthusiast.

These are some pricey birds: Attendance started at $1,500 and went up to $5,000.

If quail is your prey of choice, there are events this weekend. Democrats can opt for a weekend at the Southwind Plantation hosted by Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.) for his Valley PAC. Bring a sporting attitude and a checkbook: Admission is $2,500.

Republicans might choose to hunt quail alongside Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), as they raise bucks (not the four-legged kind) for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Participants can also hunt deer and and boar.

The “suggested contribution” for the weekend is five grand (hunting and lodging fees not included).

When it comes to raising money, the hunt is on.

With Emily Heil

Follow In the Loop on its blog (washingtonpost.com/intheloop) and on Twitter (@InTheLoopWP).

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