President-Elect's Picks Prove Diversity Is More Than Skin-Deep

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, December 3, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama's senior White House staff is taking form with a diverse array of appointees spanning generations, geography and educational and personal backgrounds.

Of the 28 top officials named to posts in the West Wing, East Wing or Vice President-elect Joe Biden's office, about two-thirds are the same age or younger than Obama, who is 47. The elder statesman of the West Wing will be retired Maj. James L. Jones, 65, who will become national security adviser. Nearly a dozen veterans of the Clinton administration will populate Obama's White House, including Lawrence H. Summers, 54, who will direct the National Economic Council.

But several relative rookies will have Obama's ear in the Oval Office, including 27-year-old Jonathan Favreau, who will become chief speechwriter, and 32-year-old Alyssa Mastromonaco, who will be the president's scheduling and advance director. About half of the White House nominees and appointees, including Favreau and Mastromonaco, worked on Obama's presidential campaign, and eight have roots in the president-elect's home town of Chicago.

"Almost all of them have political experience of one kind or another and have a very impressive range of skills," said Paul C. Light, a scholar of presidential transitions and the federal government at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service. The school's Presidential Transition Project gathered the statistics in cooperation with The Washington Post.

Obama seems to be assembling his senior staff with an eye toward gender and ethnic diversity, filling almost half the positions with women and one-third with non-whites. "It's much more diverse than critics suggest," Light said.

The nominees have far-ranging academic credentials, with graduates of Harvard (Gregory B. Craig, Terrell McSweeney) and Yale (Austan Goolsbee), as well as North Carolina State University (Robert Gibbs) and Wheaton College (Ellen Moran). Two of every three nominees boast an advanced degree.

Holbrooke Back in the Buzz

Widespread speculation has it that former ambassador Richard Holbrooke may be tapped to handle a chunk of the diplomatic effort involving South Asia, a move that would put one of America's most prominent diplomatic troubleshooters in the middle of trying to resolve the thorny and interrelated problems surrounding India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, our colleague Michael Abramowitz reports.

The possible appointment would be seen as an early indication that the region poses perhaps the biggest foreign policy challenge for the new administration. The move would also represent another example of Obama's willingness to look beyond his circle of supporters to fill key posts. Holbrooke has been a longtime adviser to and supporter of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama's pick for secretary of state, and himself had been mentioned as a possible long-shot for the top diplomat's job before Clinton was named this week.

His hopes for a top job in the new Democratic administration initially seemed unlikely to be realized, especially because his aggressive style of diplomacy and bureaucratic maneuvering had alienated some of Obama's closest advisers. But his star seemed to rise again after Obama settled on Clinton and gave her leeway to assemble her own team at the State Department.

Holbrooke is perhaps best known as the broker of the Dayton accords, which ended the war in Bosnia in the 1990s, but he has long experience across the globe, having served as both the assistant secretary of state in charge of East Asia policy (during Jimmy Carter's administration) and in charge of Europe policy (under President Bill Clinton).

Moving In . . .

Obama yesterday tapped Louis E. Caldera -- a former Army secretary, lawyer, politician and university president -- to serve as director of the White House Military Office. Caldera, who endorsed Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries, is the latest in a string of ex-Bill-Clintonites to join the new administration.

Caldera will oversee White House military operations including Camp David, presidential trips overseas and presidential aircraft. His office includes some 2,000 military officers who support the president, including the aide who carries the "presidential emergency satchel" -- known as "the football" because it is often passed around -- that includes nuclear authentication codes, emergency declarations and a telephone, should Obama need to call Clinton.

A son of Mexican immigrants, Caldera graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served as an officer in the Army. He earned his law and business degrees from Harvard in 1987 and moved to Los Angeles, where he practiced law and, in 1992, was elected to the California State Assembly. Caldera served in the Clinton administration as managing director and chief operating officer for the Corporation for National and Community Service. In 1998, Caldera became the first Hispanic to serve as secretary of the Army. Caldera later became president of the University of New Mexico and is now a professor at the university's law school.

. . . And Trading Up?

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) has emerged as a leading contender to become U.S. trade representative. A senior Democratic official said Becerra has been talking with Obama about the position, and a Latino political leader said Obama has encouraged Becerra to leave Congress to take it. Still, it was not clear last night whether Obama had officially offered the job. Becerra spokeswoman Fabiola Rodríguez-Ciampoli would not comment on the speculation, adding that "for now, this is all just rumors."

Becerra has served in Congress since 1993 and holds a coveted seat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Suspect Soldiers

Thanks to all for noting that the violin-playing terra-cotta soldiers in the photo that accompanied our item yesterday about Environmental Protection Agency chief Stephen Johnson's excellent swing through China this week were not the real ones down in the tomb outside Xian.

They are modern replicas sitting, we're told, outside the music center in Xian. Several of you said you became suspicious because the soldiers, the real ones date from 221 B.C., were holding modern violins. Had we gotten the photo we'd asked for, the one of the trombone players over in the southwest corner of the dig, doubtless no one would have noticed.

With Philip Rucker

© 2008 The Washington Post Company