Build a Diverse Staff? Yes, He Can -- and Did.

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I n less than a week, President-elect Barack Obama will settle into the West Wing, surrounded by a senior staff in which white men are the minority.

Of the top officials in Obama's White House -- including czars, assistants to the president and other important positions, but excluding secretaries of statutory Cabinet agencies -- 24 are men and 21 are women. Sixty-nine percent are white, and 20 percent are black. Three officials are Asian American, and two are Hispanic. The statistics were compiled by the Presidential Transition Project at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service in cooperation with The Washington Post.

More than half the officials are younger than the 47-year-old president-elect, and -- surprise, surprise! -- they're an overachieving bunch. Three-quarters have at least one advanced degree (17 have law degrees, 11 have master's degrees in business or public policy, and six have doctorates). Fourteen graduated from Ivy League institutions, like their new boss.

About 20 of the officials served in the Clinton administration, including Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary who will head Obama's National Economic Council, and Carol M. Browner, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who will oversee energy and climate-change issues.

"It is by my reading the most diverse White House team in modern presidential history and speaks volumes to Obama's commitment to racial, gender, educational and generational diversity," said transition expert Paul C. Light, a professor of public service at NYU. "There are a very large number of very smart people, some of whom earned their smarts at leading colleges and universities and others who earned it on Capitol Hill and working for the Clinton administration."

Grounds for a Complaint

A Justice Department inspector general's report released yesterday recounted some truly stunning goings-on in the department's civil rights division. In one 2004 episode, according to the report, John Tanner, who headed the voting section at the time, asked Bradley J. Schlozman, a former senior official in the department, to bring him coffee "Mary Frances Berry style -- black and bitter," in a reference to the African American former chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Schlozman forwarded the e-mail message to several department officials, earning a rebuke from his supervisor, internal investigators said.

Apply Now! I Mean Now!

We told you last week about a plum, six-figure career job at the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection shop that was posted just in time for a political person to burrow in. Turns out our favorite Homeland Security sister agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has its share of fine jobs with postings that expire just before the inauguration, raising more than a few eyebrows.

One of the FEMA postings is for a "Supervisory Human Resources Specialist," a GS-15 job with a top salary of $154,200. The job posting opened on Jan. 5 and closed on Jan. 9. There are several similar top jobs posted at FEMA with relatively short application periods ending on or before Jan. 20, prompting AFGE Local 4060, a FEMA employees union, to file a grievance.

"This appears to be an attempt to fill as many FEMA senior leadership jobs as possible with pre-selected individuals prior to the beginning of the Obama Administration," the grievance says. "For example, it would seem unlikely that the best candidate for a GS-15 job paying over $120,000 per year could be found in a five-day search, unless that candidate had been chosen ahead of time."

The union complains that "the great majority of new senior-level hires" under the Bush administration have been recruited from the military, the Coast Guard and elsewhere within Homeland Security, rather than from civilian emergency management agencies.

FEMA's human resources director, Tim Cannon, called the union's grievance "a ruse to try to embarrass the agency."

Cannon said the agency's "normal process" is to post a job "for at least two weeks, and we often go as long as 30 days." But he said posting high-level jobs for as little as five days is not unusual.

Pass It Along

Reminder: If you've got news or a tip on who may be getting jobs in the new administration, write to News on where Bush administration folks are headed? Send it to


The folks at Goldman Sachs called to note an error in yesterday's column. Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy F. Geithner has not worked at the investment bank. Our apologies to Goldman Sachs -- and to Geithner.

With Philip Rucker

© 2009 The Washington Post Company