Jobs, Jobs, Everywhere, but . . .

Ron Kirk, nominated to be the U.S. trade representative, is awaiting a date for his confirmation hearing.
Ron Kirk, nominated to be the U.S. trade representative, is awaiting a date for his confirmation hearing. (Lawrence Jackson - AP)
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By Al Kamen
Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The three-week-old Obama administration (seems like longer, no?) has pretty much ground to a halt on the personnel front. The White House so far this month has announced its intent to nominate three (3) people to Senate-confirmed jobs. (Subtracting the two withdrawals, that's a net gain of one.)

At this point, three departments -- Labor, Commerce, and Health and Human Services -- have no confirmed secretaries. U.S. Trade Representative-designate Ron Kirk has no Senate hearing scheduled and almost surely could not be confirmed before March. In addition, such departments as Agriculture and Transportation have "home alone" secretaries without a deputy or other confirmed assistants.

It's not clear what's behind the stall. The charitable explanation is that the White House has been all-hands-on-deck pushing the stimulus package and has put nominations on a back burner.

The uncharitable explanation is that, in the wake of the Daschle debacle, the would-be officials are reviewing their tax returns one more time and writing checks as needed. (This might also be called "vetting delays.")

Even so, President Obama's team, with 56 announced candidates at various departments and agencies and the White House for Senate-confirmable jobs, remains substantially ahead of its predecessors. Of the 56, 36 have been officially nominated and the Senate has confirmed 26.

At its third week, the Bush team had 22 announced candidates, 16 of them officially nominated and all 16 confirmed, according to data compiled by the Presidential Transition Project at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service. The Clinton administration had 44 announced candidates and 23 nominees, 22 of them confirmed.

As we've done with past administrations, we'll be tracking the administration's progress toward filling the nearly 500 Senate-confirmed jobs in the Cabinet departments and independent agencies. (The number, actually something of a moving target as officials come and go, doesn't include U.S. attorneys, U.S. marshals, judges and ambassadors -- the latter two categories will be handled separately.)

Keeping the Seat Warm

Perhaps feeling a bit too lonely at the top of the Department of Homeland Security, Secretary Janet Napolitano announced yesterday that, pending confirmation of Janet Holl Lute as deputy secretary, the job will be held on an acting basis by Rand Beers, former National Security Council director for counterterrorism and counternarcotics.

Beers, a veteran of four administrations who led the DHS review team for the Obama transition, has also been assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, a bureau also known as drugs 'n' thugs.

That's a Lot of Chips and Dip

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates may be a reserved, strait-laced leader, but he sure knows how to party.

Pentagon contractors and lobbying groups spent more than $340,000 on parties and other events to honor Gates in 2008, according to a study by CQ MoneyLine based on congressional filings. Among the big-time party-throwers were six firms that received more than $91 billion in defense contracts, the study found. Together, the firms lavished $125,000 on events for Gates.

Gates spokesman Geoff Morrell told CQ that the boss attends such events only "begrudgingly" and that Pentagon lawyers vet each invitation to make sure the parties are in compliance with federal standards.

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