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In a New Administration, Some Brand-New Jobs?

By Al Kamen
Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The intense competition among Democrats for top jobs in the incoming Obama administration assumes there are a fixed number of posts worth having. But it's looking likely that some extremely choice, even consequential, positions are going to be created by the new administration.

For example, plans are underway to establish a White House Office of Urban Policy to better coordinate federal efforts to help cities nationwide, said Valerie Jarrett, co-chairman of the Obama transition team.

"He's going to have a White House chief of urban policy," Jarrett told the Trotter Group, an organization of black columnists.

She declined to divulge names of potential choices for the post. "I'm sure there are plenty of candidates. It's a great job," Jarrett said.

Despite the many national problems the new administration will face, she continued, Barack Obama remains committed to earlier pledges to establish such an office. "Because he began as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, he understands [that] the local level is really where you can impact change and that local government can play a vital role as we try to jump-start our economy," she said.

Meanwhile, there's chatter that, if the administration decides to create the position of environmental czar, former Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner would be a logical choice. So would former energy czar Bill Richardson, though he is said to prefer the State Department.

Send those résumés.

An Uncomfortable State of Affairs

Speaking of secretary of state, it's looking increasingly like Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) may get the nod for that post, a possibility that is driving some Senate Democrats to distraction. No, not that they oppose Kerry. Not at all.

The problem is that the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), has picked up a new job. The second-ranking Democrat, Sen. Christopher Dodd (Conn.), has announced that he's staying on as head of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, what with all the troubles in the industry these days.

Well, no problem, Kerry can take . . . oh, wait. So he's going to the State Department?

That means, yes indeed, next in line to chair the committee is Sen. Russ Feingold (Wis.), who tends to approach foreign policy and related matters from, let's say, a leftward direction. Feingold was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act and is the leading advocate of cutting and running out of Iraq. That means the Obama administration, in addition to getting smacked around from the right on foreign policy matters, could find itself hammered from the left as well.

Can't wait.

Great Expectations

"Thank you, thank you," Tony Lake and Susan Rice, Obama campaign national security policy chiefs, said Friday in an e-mail to the hundreds of foreign policy experts who helped out, without pay, for countless hours in the preelection darkness. "We will remain extremely grateful for your incredibly hard work," they added.

Hmmm. This doesn't sound promising.

But the transition will be "comparatively lean," they wrote, and can have "only a limited number of people." Don't worry, being in the transition team is "in no way a prerequisite to, nor an assurance of" that administration job you want. So if you want a job, "you can (and, in fact, must)" fill out a form and send a résumé. Just go to http://www.change.govand follow the instructions. "There will be no other channel" for applications, they cautioned.

"Finally, and importantly," they wrote, "we ask each of you please do not under any circumstances speak to the press, any foreign officials, or embassies on behalf of the transition or President-elect Obama. . . . We cannot emphasize enough the importance of this request. It would be highly damaging for foreign governments or media to receive information that they believe falsely to represent the views of the President-Elect."

Now You See It, Now You Don't

Putting out information that doesn't "represent the views" of the incoming administration would be bad indeed. Maybe that's why the transition team deleted from its Web site, http://www.change.gov, lengthy policy statements about how Obama would handle some two dozen issues, including foreign policy, taxes and energy.

The policy statements, which had come from Obama's campaign, were replaced by a paragraph saying the next administration "has a comprehensive and detailed agenda to carry out its policies.

"The principal priorities of the Obama Administration include: a plan to revive the economy, to fix our health care, education, and social security systems, to define a clear path to energy independence, to end the war in Iraq responsibly and finish our mission in Afghanistan, and to work with our allies to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, among many other domestic and foreign policy objectives."

And a chicken in every pot.

Asked why the policy statements were pulled down, Obama spokesman Nick Shapiro said: "We are retooling the Web site."

Score One for Holbrooke's Detractors

It appeared for the past week or so that opponents of former United Nations ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the broker of the Dayton peace accords that ended the fighting in Bosnia, had successfully killed any chance of his becoming secretary of state. His name seemed to have receded from The List.

Holbrooke had been scheduled to give a speech Thursday at Ohio State University titled "A Foreign Policy Agenda for the Next President." But then this e-mail announcement from Ohio State floated into our mailbox, via a Loop Fan in England.

"Richard Holbrooke has canceled his visit to The Ohio State University on November 13. He has been called to Washington to help with the transition of President-elect Barack Obama's team into presidential office. This event will not be rescheduled."

Really? Maybe Holbrooke's detractors had failed after all? Talk about an eyebrow-raiser.

But an aide to Holbrooke said that the announcement was "completely false" and that the "reason he canceled was totally unrelated" to the transition and "for personal reasons."

"He is not part of any transition team," we were told, and he "hasn't been to Washington since before Election Day."

What's more, he wasn't going to be in Washington on Thursday. The speakers bureau apparently had miscommunicated with the university.

Holbrooke's detractors were breathing easier for another day.

DNI Will Play Lead Role, Not the CIA

Just before the election, the media carried stories, apparently coming out of the CIA, that both candidates would be receiving intelligence briefings. After the election, there were follow-ups, some again spotlighting the CIA, that Obama would be getting those briefings.

It sure left the impression that the CIA was in charge, although that may be because reporters by habit naturally call Langley about these matters.

We were totally confused, because we had thought the director of national intelligence would take the lead on this. Fortunately, we were right, as we learned from the DNI Web site:

11.10.2008 -- Media Spotlight DNI's Lead Role In Briefing President-Elect Obama.

On Thursday, November 6, most major news outlets reported that DNI Mike McConnell had led the first intelligence briefing for President-elect Barack Obama since the Illinois Senator's election two days earlier. Many media noted that the President-elect will now be offered the same briefing given to President Bush each morning. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence will continue to lead the effort.

Probably good that they clarified this.

With Philip Rucker

and research editor Alice Crites.

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