Who Will Lead Brownie's Old Troop?

By Al Kamen
Thursday, January 22, 2009

Confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is quickly closing in on several top appointments at the sprawling department. One of her first priorities outside of the top DHS staff is likely to be the Federal Emergency Management Agency, our colleague Spencer S. Hsu reports.

Besides serving as the president's top adviser during domestic disasters, the next FEMA chief will be under the gun as Congress, Napolitano and the White House debate whether to make FEMA a stand-alone agency or to reorganize it. FEMA also is still rebuilding from its disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina under then-Director Michael D. Brown and subsequent reorganizations.

People in the running to lead the nation's disaster response arm are said to include Ellis M. Stanley Sr., general manager of the Los Angeles emergency preparedness department, and Joseph F. Bruno, commissioner of New York City's office of emergency management, according to sources who have spoken with Obama transition officials.

Others said to be in the mix at one point included Bruce Baughman, former director of the Alabama emergency management agency; W. Craig Fugate, director of the Florida division of emergency management; and Mark C. Merritt, a former FEMA official and founding partner of former Clinton FEMA director James Lee Witt's consulting firm. Retired Army Lt. Gen Russel L. Honore, best known for heading the military's response to the Gulf Coast hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, also has had supporters.

Among other changes, Congress mandated that the FEMA director have five years of management experience and some emergency management experience, a reaction to complaints that FEMA had become a patronage farm stockpiled with political hacks. R. David Paulison, who took over after Brown to repair FEMA when others turned down the job, stepped down yesterday.

If Not Richardson, Who?

Even as President Obama's transition officials pat one another on the back, hand over their BlackBerrys and lock up the doors at transition headquarters, there's still one missing donkey: a commerce secretary-designate.

It's been three weeks since New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew as the nominee, and Obama has not named a replacement to round out his Cabinet. Many interest groups have been lobbying Obama and his top aides on behalf of their favored candidates, but we're hearing that Obama may be eyeing software executive John W. Thompson.

Sources say Thompson, chief executive and board chairman of Symantec, is being vetted by Obama's transition team.

Still There, for Now

Things seemed to have gotten a bit confused at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, once seen as a backwater but now a serious player on energy matters.

On Jan. 7, the chairman, Joseph T. Kelliher, announced that he was stepping down as chairman on Jan. 20, although his term on the commission "does not end until 2012."

He also said he would "immediately begin to recuse myself from FERC business, as I explore other career opportunities." A smart move, since he would then at least stay on payroll while looking.

Some critics were ecstatic. On Jan. 14, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, one of Kelliher's harshest detractors, said the resignation "starts dismantling a fatally flawed FERC," according to the New Haven Register. "Under Chairman Kelliher," Blumenthal said, "FERC has been on a lawless and mindless mission to nearly obliterate state rights and approve virtually all energy projects at any cost to the environment and ordinary citizens." Well, hold the enthusiasm.

The next day, Kelliher, with his family there, delivered a five-page speech at his last open commission meeting as chairman, lauded accomplishments during his tenure and gave out awards to his staff.

But then Jan. 20 came and he didn't go, something that apparently raised some eyebrows.

So the agency issued the following statement Tuesday, titled "Response to Inquiries":

"Joseph T. Kelliher remains Chairman until President Obama names a successor. While the Chairman announced his intention to step down on January 20th, it is important that the agency have a chief executive, and he will not leave that position until a new Chairman is named by the President."

We're told his staying on ensures someone will oversee the staff. Obama is expected to move promptly on this, perhaps as early as this week.

A VA Deputy?

There's buzz that W. Scott Gould, a former assistant secretary of commerce and more recently a vice president for public-sector strategy and change at IBM Business Consulting Services, is being looked at to be deputy secretary of veterans affairs. Others in the mix are Illinois veterans official Tammy Duckworth and Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown.

Gupta Still in the Picture

Fans of CNN medical reporter Sanjay Gupta, who had been offered and accepted a job in the new administration as surgeon general, was seen on television Tuesday commenting on seizures suffered Tuesday by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who is suffering from brain cancer.

That only made sense, since Gupta is a practicing neurosurgeon. But his fans wanted to know whether that means Gupta, who was one of People's Sexiest Men in 2003, won't be getting the job after all.

Well, we continue to be assured that the doctor is still on track for the post.

Foreign Intrigue

David Gordon, formerly head of policy planning during the Rice State Department and a career CIA officer who ran the National Intelligence Council, is off to head the Washington office of Eurasia Group, a business consulting group. Gary Samore is leaving the Council on Foreign Relations to go back to his old job at the National Security Council doing nonproliferation.

From NYC to DHS

Rima Cohen has not resigned as New York City's director of health and social services under the deputy mayor's office, but a spokeswoman there said that she "has accepted a position in the Obama administration's Health and Human Services Department" and that "we expect her to tender her resignation shortly." Cohen was one of the hordes of health policy experts -- she was a designee of then-Sen. Thomas A. Daschle -- on the Clinton administration's ill-fated secret health-care reform task force.

The Post's Loss . . .

Our esteemed colleague Warren Bass, who was a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and held the National Security Council portfolio on the 9/11 Commission before becoming deputy editor of The Washington Post's Outlook section, is said to be on tap to become the speechwriter and a senior policy adviser for U.N. Ambassador-designate Susan Rice. Her gain.

The Loser's Spoils

So many Clintonites are finding top jobs in the administration that this joke is making the rounds 'mongst the Obama campaign foreign policy folks: "If you wanted Obama to become president, you had to work on his campaign. If you wanted to work for President Obama, you had to work on Hillary Clinton's campaign."

With Philip Rucker

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