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Where Can You Find Good Help These Days?

By Al Kamen
Friday, February 13, 2009

With Sen. Judd Gregg's rediscovery yesterday that he was actually a Republican and that President Obama favored a stimulus package, Obama may be en route to setting a new world indoor record for top-tier nomination withdrawals.

The smooth-running Clinton folks saw a similar debacle early on with the nomination and withdrawal of Zoe Baird for attorney general and then Judge Kimba Wood's withdrawal of her name for the same post. There was also the Lani Guinier nomination for civil rights chief at Justice. In addition, Clinton picked Adm. Bobby Ray Inman for CIA director but he withdrew from consideration.

That leaves Obama in an obvious quandary. The best bet might be to take out a classified ad in The Washington Post: "Help Wanted. Commerce Secretary. No specific skills needed. Ability to travel the world and glad-hand a plus. No knowledge of the census needed -- unless you're a Democrat. Proof of confirmability (60 votes) is essential. Apply immediately to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. First Floor, Washington, D.C. (Note: Must pay taxes first.)"

He'll Be Back

Kevin A. Ohlson, a career Justice Department employee who directs the Executive Office for Immigration Review, is leaving his job to become counselor and chief of staff to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. But there's a catch: Ohlson will be on "temporary detail," meaning that when he leaves his political appointment to Holder's inner circle he has the unusual luxury of returning to his previous civil service job without giving up the benefits that come with it.

Justice Department officials say there is no determined time frame for Ohlson's appointment, and he could stay as chief of staff for the duration of Holder's tenure. In the meantime, immigration judge Tom Snow, a former Justice Department official, will serve as acting director of the immigration review office.

Immigration rights advocates say that having a long-term temporary chief could weaken the leadership of an office that had not been a high priority in the Bush administration, and they called on Ohlson to pick one job or the other. But Ohlson said that wouldn't be the case.

"I have extreme confidence in [Snow's] abilities to oversee and lead the Executive Office for Immigration Review during my absence," Ohlson wrote in an e-mail Wednesday to colleagues after queries about the arrangement. "I know that you will continue to provide Tom with your complete support as he assumes the duties of acting director."

A Frequent Flier to Pyongyang?

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a major speech scheduled for today to the Asia Society in New York, may announce that she's selected former career diplomat Stephen W. Bosworth, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and former ambassador to South Korea, to be her special envoy to North Korea for talks about their nukes.

Curiously, news reports last weekend found Bosworth in Pyongyang on a private trip with other academics, meeting with North Korean officials and reporting that they might be interested in engaging with the Obama administration.

"We indicated there was concern that they might be preparing for a missile launch, they said that we should all wait and see," he told reporters.

Maybe he had some time to check out the rooms at the Koryo Hotel to see if they were up to snuff? Since there's no embassy in North Korea, Bosworth will have to search out his own digs when he goes there.

Among those going on Clinton's first trip as secretary of state, to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China, are her co-deputy chiefs of staff, Huma Abedin and Jake Sullivan, who worked on Clinton's campaign and on her confirmation process, and speechwriter Lissa Muscatine. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Christopher R. Hill, who's off to be our man in Baghdad, is also going, but his successor as assistant secretary, Kurt Campbell, has not been nominated.

Climate-change envoy Todd Stern is also flying over, and a number of energy and environmentally oriented events are said to be on tap to highlight the issues, especially in China. (Shouldn't take much planning. Just go any day to the observation deck of the Jin Ma Tower in Shanghai and see if you can "observe" anything through the cloud of pollution.)

Clinton counselor and chief of staff Cheryl Mills and other aides are staying behind to work on her next trip, which the Egyptian foreign minister said yesterday will include a stop in Cairo in early March.

Front-Runner for AIDS Post

Also on the foreign policy front, the smart money for the next global AIDS coordinator is drifting to Eric Goosby, who headed the Office of HIV/AIDS Policy in the Department of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration and is now chief medical officer and CEO of a major AIDS foundation in California. Others in the running include Jim Kim, Harvard Medical School professor and former director of the World Health Organization's HIV/AIDS department; Wafaa El-Sadr, chief of the infectious disease division at Harlem Hospital; and Nils Daulaire, president and chief executive of the Global Health Council.

With Philip Rucker

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