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In the Loop

Treasury Has That Vacant Look

By Al Kamen
Monday, March 14, 2005; Page A17

Good to see Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, last seen campaigning constantly for President Bush in Ohio and Pennsylvania, back on the road. He's been a key player, a leader in the critical "60 Stops in 60 Days" effort to pass Bush's ideas on Social Security.

The campaign began earlier this month, and Snow has already been out campaigning in Fayetteville, Ark.; New Orleans; Albuquerque; and San Antonio.

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Doubtless there are many more stops to come, all of which should put to rest those stories about how his department has lost its clout in the administration. Of course, it didn't help when the White House leaked that Snow was a short-timer but couldn't find a suitable replacement. Then critics a couple of months back pointed to a number of high-level departures and Snow's supposed inability to fill openings -- especially in jobs involving tax policy.

Department officials said this was, of course, utter nonsense and promised that a new, even stronger team of replacements would be announced soon.

Well, maybe not so soon.

Of the 112 top officials listed on the department's Web site organization chart as of Friday, about two dozen jobs were vacant or temporarily filled by "acting" folks. These include three topmost jobs, such as the deputy secretary and the undersecretaries for domestic and international affairs.

Mark Weinberger, a former assistant secretary for tax policy, was widely mentioned as the nominee for the No. 2 job, but nothing has happened so far. And Tim Adams was said to be set for undersecretary for international affairs -- the incumbent, John B. Taylor, is reportedly leaving shortly -- but no announcement yet. Assistant Secretary Randal K. Quarles is reportedly up for the other undersecretary slot.

It may be that White House vetting for these jobs in the post- Bernie Kerik era is backing things up. That, in turn, can slow action on some of the lower-level jobs. There are openings for assistant secretaries for domestic financial institutions, tax policy -- vacant for more than a year and the deputy assistant secretary is acting -- and for intelligence and analysis in the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. As for tax policy, there's no international tax counsel and no benefits tax counsel.

Given the Senate's glacial pace, it's unlikely these jobs will be filled for the next few months -- even if nominations are imminent. In July, a tax reform panel is to present its proposals and Treasury is to turn those into policies. Not easy to do without key tax officials in place.

To make matters worse, two senators, Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) have promised to put holds on Treasury nominees. Baucus is upset over Cuba trade issues involving his farmers, and Smith is angry about the regulations Treasury issued on his one-year tax holiday legislation -- never liked by the White House -- that would allow companies making money overseas to bring back their earnings at a reduced rate. Smith thinks the regs are too strict.

Potential job candidates over the years have been unwilling to sign up if they can't anticipate a reasonably prompt confirmation process.

Where's the Beef?

We are delighted today to kill a rumor that rocketed through Foggy Bottom and diplomatic circles last week over a supposed tongue-lashing Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick meted out to his East Asia team, accusing them of kowtowing to the Japanese and not doing enough to force them to reverse their ban on importing American beef because of fears of mad cow disease. According to multiple sources, he called Evans Revere, the acting assistant secretary for that region, a "chrysanthemum-loving bovine buffoon" -- a reference to Japan's Chrysanthemum Throne.

But now we are told by State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli that Zoellick said "no such thing" and that the critical question under discussion was the effort to open up a large market for U.S. beef.

Could well be the State folks didn't understand that if the Japanese don't heel, the powerful cattle lobby could oppose and sink CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement that Zoellick worked so hard on when he was U.S. trade representative.

So let's get with the program.

Economics at State

Speaking of trade matters, word is that Zoellick is bringing Josette Shiner, his top aide at USTR and former managing editor of the Washington Times, to be undersecretary for economic affairs at State.

On the Move

Moving out: Longtime defense guru Franklin C. Miller is leaving government after 31 years to go to the Cohen Group, the primo business-defense-related lobbying group. Miller, who most recently had the defense portfolio at the National Security Council and was a key player on nuclear, space and Iraq matters, also spent 26 years at the Pentagon, where his picture graced the E-Ring wall until a year ago.

Moving in: Word on the street is that Christine A. Iverson -- now Gunderson after her marriage in November -- is the top candidate to be director of public affairs at the Commerce Department. Gunderson, former spokeswoman at the Republican National Committee and, before that, communications director for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, had been communications director on the first Thune for Senate campaign.

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