The Nomination Express, Stuck in First Gear

(Charles Dharapak - AP)
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By Al Kamen
Monday, February 2, 2009

President Obama garnered high praise for quickly announcing his choices for Cabinet positions and other key administration jobs. Indeed, he nominated far more top officials before being sworn in than his two immediate predecessors.

But less than two weeks into his presidency, just 17 of the 31 nominees officially announced by the White House have been confirmed by the Senate -- a less noteworthy pace. By comparison, 19 of Bill Clinton's nominees were confirmed in his first 10 days in office. George W. Bush, who had a much abbreviated transition because of the Florida recount, had 13 nominees confirmed in the first 10 days, according to an analysis by the Presidential Transition Project at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service in cooperation with The Washington Post.

Obama has "done a very good job loading the pipeline," said Paul C. Light, who directs the NYU project. "But I've always viewed this as a concrete pipe. You shove the people into the pipe, but they can only go so fast given the natural paperwork burdens, hearing burdens and all of the obstacles that get in the way."

"This process is very balky," Light added. "It's not elastic. It only can tolerate so many people at a time."

Several key nominees -- including Attorney General-designate Eric H. Holder Jr., Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Thomas A. Daschle, Labor Secretary-designate Hilda L. Solis, and U.S. Trade Representative-designate Ron Kirk -- cannot begin work until they are confirmed by the Senate, and there's no nominee yet for commerce secretary.

Well, There Was That Time . . .

Applying for a national security job in the Obama administration? Be careful on Standard Form 86, which takes endless hours to fill out. There's a trick question in Section 29.

Question: "Have you EVER knowingly engaged in any acts of terrorism? Neither your truthful response nor information derived from your response to this question will be used as evidence against you in any subsequent criminal proceeding."

Okay, so it appears that you've got use immunity from prosecution. And if you lie, you're in trouble. But what acts are they talking about? When you put chalk in the teacher's eraser back in fourth grade? Sabotage, maybe, but no one got hurt, so you probably don't need to note that. Ah, but the tack on the chair . . .

One frustrated administration official who wrestled with the form told us it was "ingeniously manufactured to waste the maximum amount of time and make you repent of ever deciding to serve your country."

Not a DeVry Degree in the Bunch

Obama, who has prided himself on diversity, has assembled a historically large team of top-notch White House lawyers headed by Counsel Gregory B. Craig. The crew is diverse -- 11 of the 20 top lawyers are women -- but it is much less diverse when it comes to academic credentials.

Half of the 20 senior counselors come from only two law schools: Harvard or Yale, each with five graduates. Two other lawyers boast Stanford law degrees, while others picked up their JDs at the University of Chicago, Columbia, Cornell and Northwestern.

The lawyers are no less elite when it comes to undergraduate education. Among them are two graduates each of Harvard, Yale, Brown and Duke. Craig, however, holds a special distinction as the only one to have attended both Harvard and Yale.

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