No election commissioners? No problem.
By Al Kamen,
Wait, isn’t this an election year? The kind that will see voters stepping into booths and casting ballots, pulling levers and punching buttons?
Bad timing then for the Election Assistance Commission to be completely leaderless. It’s the body that was created in the wake of the 2000 presidential election’s hanging-chad debacle and tasked with overseeing federal election standards.
Not one of the body’s four commissioner seats is filled, and it looks like they’ll remain vacant for the foreseeable future.
Adding to the leadership vacuum, the commission’s executive director left in November. Filling in has been general counsel Mark Robbins — although he has been nominated to another post and could leave the agency if confirmed.
Routine business in the lead-up to the elections hasn’t ground to a halt, exactly — there’s still a $16.2 million budget and a bunch of folks showing up to work. And before the commissioners turned out the lights, they passed rules delegating staff with day-to-day duties such as approving voting equipment.
But without commissioners, the commission can’t rule on appeals, hold meetings or hearings, or approve new standards that were supposed to be finalized in 2010.
And that seems to be just the way Republicans want it. Congressional Republicans have blasted the EAC, saying it has outlived its original purpose of doling out federal election-aid money to states. The House passed a bill to kill it entirely.
Gracia Hillman, a former Democratic commissioner, sees politics at play. “Republicans have certainly had their way with the commission,” she said, by letting it wither on the vine.
But, she says, Democrats should push harder. The White House, after all, hasn’t sent the Senate names for the two empty Republican slots.
Still, pushing harder may be easier said than done.
The two commissioner nominations — both Democrats — are awaiting action in the Senate Rules committee. A third nominee, a Republican, withdrew this year. Typically, the committee would move the nominees by pairing a Democrat and a Republican, but without a GOP nominee, there’s little leverage in the closely divided Senate.
Looks like the elections will happen without them.
Changes at Indian Affairs
More shuffling — and questions — at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The bureau’s leader, Larry Echo Hawk, announced last month that he’s leaving for a leadership spot in the Mormon church. On his way out the door, he assigned Jeanette Hanna to a new post.
Hanna, who was director of the eastern Oklahoma regional office, had been “on detail” to the Washington headquarters since early 2010. Now she’s a special assistant to the assistant secretary for Indian affairs — the assistant secretary position being the one that Echo Hawk is leaving at the end of the month.
Now stakeholders are wondering what the move means for the neglected regional office.
A rush for the exit
Considerable movement of late at the agencies that make you take off your shoes at airports, give you half a border fence and offer hazardous trailers for hurricane victims.
Greg Soule writes that his last day is April 20 at the Transportation Security Administration after nearly nine years fielding oft-cantankerous reporters’ questions.
He notes — with considerable understatement — that “the coverage of TSA is not always glowing” but says nonetheless “it’s been a pleasure (most of the time).” He’s moving to Charlotte, N.C., to, as they say, “pursue job opportunities.”
His move follows that of Kristin Lee, TSA’s assistant administrator for public affairs, who has moved on to be senior public relations manager at Microsoft’s D.C. office.
Last month, Brent Colburn, who was assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Homeland Security, and formerly at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), took off for Chicago to work communications for the Obama reelection campaign.
Lars Anderson, who had been press director and spokesperson at the Agency for International Development, replaced Colburn.
And Rachel Racusen, who had been FEMA’s director of public affairs, is now vice president of public relations firm SKDKnickerbocker, home to the mega-newsmaker of the week, working woman Hilary Rosen.
A shift at State
In other moves of note, Kelly Magsamen, a State Department career civil servant who has been director for Iran at the National Security Council, has taken over for Derek Chollet as senior director for strategic planning.
Chollet was nominated last month to be assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, replacing Sandy Vershbow, who has moved on to become deputy secretary general of NATO.