Where There's Bureaucracy, There's Bureaucracy

By Al Kamen
Monday, November 24, 2008

The first wave of Obama transition staffers rolled into the government bureaucracy last week to investigate the states of play at various agencies. Best we can tell, things went reasonably smoothly, with perhaps a few exceptions, mostly having to do with security-clearance glitches.

One Democratic official said there were some instances in which a "breakdown of communications" between the transition and the White House and an agency or two may have affected things. But a transition source involved in a "breakdown" called it a "massive screw-up."

We're told clearances were slow in coming -- or those that came were not at a high enough level -- for a majority of transition-team members when they arrived at the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

The intelligence side seems less affected, probably because most transition staffers in that arena already have heavy-duty clearances. Team chief John Brennan and his aides have been seen lunching in the DNI cafeteria and ambling the halls without apparent problem. They have been issued offices and computers -- ones that can handle classified material.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday that the two dozen transition-team members at the Pentagon either have the required clearances or "will get them shortly."

So things apparently will get sorted out.

Seeking a Pleasant Peninsula

With the auto industry in general and the state of Michigan in particular melting down last week, executives from Detroit's Big Three automakers were wandering the Hill with tin cups. But with hundreds of thousands of Michigan jobs at stake, some folks were wondering where the state's governor, Jennifer Granholm, was.

Turns out she was in the Middle East, on a week-long trade trip to Israel and Jordan that started Nov. 13. Even had time to spare for a grip-and-grin with outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and to lay a wreath at the Holocaust memorial before heading to Jordan.

But the Detroit bailout package was quickly heading south as the hapless auto executives -- did anyone brief them on what to say and do? -- were mercilessly hammered Tuesday and Wednesday by lawmakers in the House and Senate. And the governor? Chatting with Jordan's King Abdullah.

She cut her trip short by a day and made it back to Washington on Thursday morning for a bit of lobbying before heading home to Lansing that night.

Well, it's hard to fault her for going to the Middle East. That's about the only place where they still buy SUVs.

Chinese Junket

Speaking of travel, looks as though there'll be one last great trip for the lame-duck Bush Cabinet before it fades into the sunset. It's the great 2008 U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue, to work on strategies to improve economic relationships. The trip, part of a regular exchange between the two countries, is set for the end of next week. All policy agreements are guaranteed until Jan. 20.

The jaunt is headed by outgoing Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and includes folks from most of the agencies that have a hand in international commerce: Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman.

It will be Chao's fifth trip to China since June 2004 and her third this year. She was in the Middle Kingdom for a lengthy voyage during and after the Beijing Olympics in August and just got back from a brief trip to an international forum in Beijing on worker safety. There she gave a speech hailing the success of this country's voluntary programs in boosting safety for workers and miners.

When you add up the security and advance people and the airfare and lodging and other expenses, these conferences are likely to cost into the low seven figures if enough Cabinet members go. Maybe not enough to jump-start the Chinese economy, but it's a start.

The White House-in-Waiting

You might think President-elect Barack Obama is toiling away at his transition headquarters in downtown Washington. The building, a few blocks from Verizon Center, is under intense security, fortified with concrete Jersey walls and orange construction cones and guarded by police and Secret Service protection. To enter, visitors must be cleared by the Secret Service and pass through metal detectors and high-security turnstiles.

One denizen compared the security to that at the west gate of the White House.

Funny thing is, the president-elect may not ever set foot in the place. Obama was last seen in Washington on Nov. 10, when he swooped into town for a few hours to visit with President Bush at the White House. And no Cabinet-level gonnabes are likely to spend much, if any, time there.

And so the security crew and barriers are protecting the all-important transition staffers, whose security badges are designated with a big "W." We assume that stands for "workers" and not "Dubya."

So Far, So Good

Meanwhile, there was much scrambling Friday as word finally leaked that New York Fed chief Timothy Geithner was the pick to be Treasury secretary. It was a done deal, sources said. No, not quite, others said. Absolutely, pretty much, others said. But then the market, on hearing rumors that it was Geithner, soared some 500 points in what might be called The Geithner Counter. Hard to beat that -- and he didn't even do anything. So maybe we should spot him 500 points and monitor how the Dow does under his watch?

A Better Offer

This just in from Nashville: Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) abruptly canceled a lecture Thursday night at Vanderbilt University's School of Nursing.

"Congressman Jim Cooper has been asked to stay in Washington tonight to meet with President-elect Obama's economic team and a few key members of Congress. He extends his sincere apologies for canceling on short notice," said a statement issued by the university.

Cooper, a fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrat, was an early endorser of Obama's, and some news reports have mentioned him as a candidate for an economic or budget post in the new administration.

Hire a Vet?

Lots of buzz last week about Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) as a possibility for secretary of veterans affairs. Brown is a Harvard Law School classmate of Obama's, a veteran of the Iraq war, a colonel in the Army Reserve and co-chairman of Obama's Department of Veterans Affairs transition team.

Let's Hear It

Reminder: If you've got news and tips on who may be getting jobs in the new administration, send them to movingin@washpost.com. Any news on where Bush administration folks are headed? Send them to movingout@washpost.com.

With Philip Rucker and Alice Crites

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