Moving On Up, to Brussels

President Bush, at an observance of World Malaria Day in Hartford, Conn., was a little short of cash when he wanted to give a donation to a fundraising effort. An aide nearby came to the rescue.
President Bush, at an observance of World Malaria Day in Hartford, Conn., was a little short of cash when he wanted to give a donation to a fundraising effort. An aide nearby came to the rescue. (By Gerald Herbert -- Associated Press)
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By Michael Abramowitz
Monday, April 28, 2008

It happens in the eighth year of every two-term presidential administration: A bright young aide who has worked himself or herself up from a modest staff job gets rewarded with a plum assignment that might ordinarily go to a graybeard.

So Kristen L. Silverberg, who got her start in the administration in 2001 as an assistant to then-deputy chief of staff Joshua M. Bolten, was named last week to serve out the term -- and possibly beyond -- as the U.S. ambassador to the European Union in Brussels, the White House announced last week.

Silverberg, 37, a onetime clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas, has been working as assistant secretary of state for international organizations. She also worked for such administration luminaries as then-senior adviser Karl Rove and then-chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr., and did a stint in Iraq.

Her appointment might also help resolve a long-standing White House dispute with the Senate over the E.U. post. Bush's nomination of C. Boyden Gray was blocked by Senate Democrats, some of whom were infuriated by Gray's leading the campaign for some of the president's conservative judicial appointments.

Bush then installed Gray as ambassador in a recess appointment. When the recess appointment ended early this year, he sent the veteran Washington lawyer back to Brussels as a senior envoy, a post that did not require Senate confirmation. While the Senate is not usually interested in confirming last-minute political appointees, the word is that Democrats may make an exception for Silverberg -- if only to get Gray out of Brussels as soon as possible.

Homeland Security Transitioning

We caught up briefly last week with Kenneth L. Wainstein, another long-time administration worker bee who is ending up the term as homeland security adviser to the president. Wainstein, the former U.S. attorney for the District, has held a variety of posts at the FBI and Justice Department; he took over last month from Frances Fragos Townsend in the job Bush created to coordinate federal efforts to protect the country from terrorist attacks.

As Wainstein tells it, one of his biggest assignments from Bush has been to prepare for the transition to the new president -- for example, to make sure the new team understands fully the procedures for dealing with a terrorist attack or natural disaster. This is no small matter given the confusion inside the White House and federal bureaucracy on Sept. 11, 2001.

"We have to do everything we can to make sure the transition goes without a hiccup," said Wainstein, 46. "The president has made it clear to me . . . that we have to really put a focus on the fact that we have things lined up to hand over to the next administration."

Toward that end, Wainstein said he expects threat briefings will be offered to the presidential candidates, probably after the conventions, to give a more granular sense of what he or she will be confronting in January.

One open question is whether the next president will keep in place the structure that Bush created after Sept. 11, in particular the Homeland Security Council, an analogue to the National Security Council for coordinating the interagency handling of counterterrorism activities. The full council, including the president and Cabinet secretaries, meets half a dozen times a year, though there are many other lower-level meetings of principals and deputies.

While there has been debate over whether the Homeland Security Council overlaps with the National Security Council, Wainstein thinks there is plenty for the former to coordinate without getting in the way of the NSC -- from defending the borders and immigration issues to dealing with biohazards, potential attacks on chemical facilities and responding to natural disasters.

"One thing I have found since I have come in here is the original wisdom behind creating a homeland security council still applies," said Wainstein.


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