But They Did Not Seat the Deputy

Kathleen Sebelius may have to settle for shadow puppets if she's looking for company at HHS.
Kathleen Sebelius may have to settle for shadow puppets if she's looking for company at HHS. (By Chip Somodevilla -- Getty Images)
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By Al Kamen
Wednesday, April 22, 2009

President Obama likes to make sure everyone knows that his domestic priorities are health-care reform, education and, of course, getting the economy out of its death spiral. But you can hardly tell that by looking at the number of folks confirmed for top jobs in the Cabinet departments that are key to those initiatives.

When Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, approved yesterday by a Senate committee, takes over as secretary of health and human services, there will finally be one confirmed Obama appointee at each agency. But she may well be joining the ranks of the "home alone" crowd.

In that distinguished grouping we find Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner each have but one other confirmed nominee to talk to, according to data compiled by Clara Janis of New York University's Wagner School of Public Service.

The Cabinet agencies filling up fastest so far, counting holdovers, are the Justice Department, with 29 percent of its openings filled; Agriculture, at 25 percent; the Pentagon, with 21 percent; and the State Department, coming in at just under 19 percent, according to the NYU data.

But the White House, with a recent flurry of nominations, is moving the ball up to the Senate, where, as of Monday, 74 nominations were pending for these departments. It will probably take a while for the Senate to digest all of them -- and doubtless there will be some who run into trouble -- but the number of confirmed nominees should surge in the next month or so.

Not all the vacancies will be filled, but there might be enough for a bridge game.


There's chatter among the intelligence types that Vann Van Diepen, the missile expert and a major player in the controversial National Intelligence Estimate last year that cast doubt on Iran's ability to go nuclear in the near future, is a leading candidate to be assistant secretary of state in charge of the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN). Van Diepen is national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction and proliferation at the National Intelligence Council. Before that, he served more than 14 years as director of the State Department's Office of Chemical, Biological and Missile Nonproliferation.

The ISN job, we reported a couple of months ago, looked to be going to former top National Security Council aide Daniel Poneman, but that was when it appeared arms-control guru Robert Einhorn was to be the undersecretary of state for these matters.

We're hearing that when Einhorn didn't get the job -- Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) said last month that she was the pick, though she hasn't been nominated -- Poneman may have considered some options. He was offered the job of deputy secretary of energy. Hmm . . . Let's see, assistant secretary among many at Foggy Bottom or the No. 2 guy in a department. Bingo. He's now been nominated for the Energy Department job.


More special people than you ever imagined. Richard Morningstar, a former ambassador to the European Union, joins the growing ranks of the special envoys at the State Department. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday named him special envoy for Eurasian energy. The announcement said he and an unspecified number of staff members "will support the United States' energy goals in the Eurasian region." Better than opposing them. And to be specific as to his duties, "he will work on key energy issues relating to Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Central Asia and the Caucasus." Unclear whether he'll work from his Massachusetts home, join specials Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell in New York, or work from here.


"I wake up every day thinking about how to keep the American people safe," President Obama said yesterday, borrowing a regular refrain from George W. Bush. CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller blogs that Bush has used very similar language in at least 75 speeches since 9/11.

"I wake up every day thinking about how best to protect America," Bush said in a presidential debate with Sen. John F. Kerry on Sept. 30, 2004, Knoller reported.


The Environmental Protection Agency, naturally, is having an Earth Day festival. It's today from noon to 2:30 p.m. outside EPA headquarters at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Agency scientists and employees will be there, an announcement says, along with "the EPA band."

A band? Maybe Green Day was already booked.


Longtime consumer advocate Gene Kimmelman, former legislative director for the Consumer Federation of America and more recently vice president at Consumers Union -- the folks who publish Consumer Reports -- is headed to the Justice Department's antitrust division to work for newly confirmed Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney. Kimmelman, who had worked on the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee, is to be chief counsel for competition policy and intergovernmental relations.

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