Good Thing All's Quiet at Treasury These Days

By Al Kamen
Monday, March 2, 2009

Former Fed chief Paul Volcker last week called the personnel situation at the Treasury Department "shameful."

"The secretary of the Treasury is sitting there without a deputy, without any undersecretaries, without any, as far as I know, assistant secretaries," Volcker said, "at a time of very severe crisis."

President Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, asked by a reporter for comment, said he "wouldn't quite agree with everything that our friend Mr. Volcker said," adding: "I don't think that the secretary is alone at the Treasury Department. I think there are many able people assisting him."

Maybe so, but Secretary Timothy F. Geithner still does not have a deputy or Senate-confirmed undersecretaries or assistant secretaries to help him. And it's not because the Senate has been going at its traditional, snail-like pace confirming people. (That will be, as sure as night follows day, a problem down the road.) The fact is, the White House has sent no nominations to the Senate for any of those positions.

And the problem, as Volcker also noted, is a severe case of Daschle-itis -- with a strong dose of Geithner-itis -- that has sparked an intense spate of re-vetting of potential nominees. We've heard the process compared to some rather unpleasant medical procedures. According to one estimate, as many as a third of potential nominees were found to have had some tax questions to answer.

During February, after its breakneck pace through January, the Obama White House formally nominated only six people and announced its intention to nominate 15 others, according to a data analysis by our colleague Sarah Cohen in cooperation with the New York University Wagner School of Public Service's Presidential Transition Project. (This count doesn't reflect White House intentions revealed over the weekend to nominate Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of health and human services .) Seven Obama officials were confirmed by the Senate in February, the data show, in addition to three former Bush administration officials who are remaining in their jobs and do not require Senate confirmation.

As it stands, the Obama team is still ahead of the Bush and Clinton transitions. Using a comparable set of positions, Obama has announced 65 appointments and sent 31 nominations to the Senate for confirmation. George W. Bush had nominated 21 people by the end of February 2001, and Bill Clinton had named 26 at the same point in 1993. (Obama has chosen seven additional people for jobs that are newly created or are not counted in the historical records.)


As we reported online Friday, it looks as if Cassandra Q. Butts, deputy White House counsel and former Harvard Law School classmate and close friend of the president's, is the pick to be head of the troubled Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has been beset by shrinking staff, plummeting morale and a growing backlog of job discrimination cases to investigate.

Butts, a member of Obama's innermost circle, was a longtime aide to Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) during Gephardt's days in the House, and more recently she has been a senior vice president for domestic policy at the Center for American Progress.

Should she take the post, Butts would provide a much-needed spark to the 44-year-old commission, which has been seen by civil rights advocates as something of a castoff in recent years. She also would trade a view of the well-manicured South Lawn and the cuisine of the White House mess for a view of stop-and-go New York Avenue and value meals at the nearby Wendy's.


CIA Director Leon Panetta has made Jeremy B. Bash his chief of staff. Bash has been the chief counsel of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, first under Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.) when she was the ranking Democrat and more recently under Chairman Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.).

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