Correction to This Article
This article failed to mention Stuart Levey, the Treasury Department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, when referring to officials held over from the Bush administration.
Page 2 of 2   <      

Picks for Key Government Posts Play Long Waiting Game

"Vetting is taking long time because the White House wants to get it right. They don't want to get burned," LaHood said in a recent interview.

Former Federal Reserve chairman Paul A. Volcker, who leads the president's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, called the delays "shameful" in congressional testimony last week.

"The secretary of the Treasury is sitting there without a deputy, without any undersecretaries, without any, as far as I know, assistant secretaries responsible in substantive areas at a time of very severe crisis. He shouldn't be sitting there alone," Volcker said.

With the exception of Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability Neel T. Kashkari, a holdover official who does not require reconfirmation by the Senate, the president has not officially nominated any other Treasury officials so far.

As he began his transition, Obama assembled a group of lawyers to vet his potential picks with unprecedented scrutiny of their personal, financial and professional backgrounds. He required candidates to complete a 63-item questionnaire, a detailed probe of the person's writings, relationships, finances, tax filings, legal proceedings, domestic help and personal profiles on social networking Web sites.

But that process -- hailed as one of the toughest ever at the time-- became even more burdensome after Daschle's withdrawal and the discovery of tax-related problems with other nominees, including Timothy F. Geithner, who became Treasury secretary.

"It has sharpened a good bit," said Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. "There were a bunch of questions, but we have added a few. There is a certain rigor to it that is appropriate. And you can always dig deeper and deeper."

People who are offered a job for the roughly 800 executive posts that require Senate confirmation receive an e-mail from the White House a day later congratulating them and instructing them to fill out three long forms: a comprehensive FBI questionnaire; a Form 278 from the Office of Government Ethics; and a list of questions from the relevant Senate committees.

The nominees are then questioned by a team of committee investigators led by former IRS agents hired by the Senate Finance Committee to perform what some describe as the equivalent of a full-fledged IRS audit before their hearings can be scheduled.

One nominee was asked about a $13 receipt. Another described the vetting as particularly intense, saying an FBI agent spent weeks conducting an investigation dating back 15 or 20 years, talking to the appointee's friends, neighbors and people he served with on nonprofit boards. But the nominee understands why the process demands such scrutiny.

"I'm not surprised," said the appointee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "I think that the stakes are awfully high, the responsibilities are pretty high, and we've come to a point where little flaws can take on big meaning or more meaning than you might think. Nobody wants to be a distraction."

But this nominee and others said it is frustrating to sit on the sidelines, unable to perform the full duties of their jobs until they receive Senate confirmation.

"I'm just eager to get going," the nominee said. "Given the stimulus, the game has really started. We're like in the fourth quarter here. There's real money on the table, there's a lot going on, and I'd like to help support the effort."

Another said the excitement of being nominated has worn off amid the rigorous investigation, adding: "I just wonder if the fairy dust begins to dissipate just a bit."

Staff writers Michael A. Fletcher and Sholnn Freeman contributed to this report.

<       2

© 2009 The Washington Post Company