White House Still Has a Vacancy for a Lesser Czar

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

In an East Room speech at the end of May, President Obama declared a new "strategic national asset": the computer networks our country depends on to keep trains running and planes from colliding, to control weapons systems and allow banks to process payments. He also promised to "personally" select a White House cybersecurity coordinator to advise him on all things cyber and to coordinate cyber-policies across the government.

Two months later, White House staffers have approached a number of prospects, but there's still no white smoke, our colleague Ellen Nakashima reports, and several said "no thanks."

Those who have politely declined a prospective vetting include former Virginia congressman Tom Davis (R), Microsoft exec Scott Charney, Symantec Chairman John W. Thompson (whose interest was gauged months ago) and retired Air Force Gen. Harry D. Raduege Jr., a former director of the Defense Information Systems Agency.

What's not to like about being Obama's cyber-czar?

First, you're not really a czar, reporting as you would to national security adviser Jim Jones and White House economic adviser Larry Summers. "What real authority do you have?" said one of those who demurred. "Who's going to go to Jim Jones and say, 'This is what you need to do?'. . . Do you have the president behind you?"

Second, "It's a huge, huge turf war. You have Defense fighting the Treasury fighting the intel groups fighting Homeland Security" for control, he said.

"The sheep," said cyber-expert Jim Lewis, "don't want a shepherd."

Lewis described the job as "bag-holder in chief -- if something bad happens, you're responsible for cybersecurity, even if you don't have the authority to pull it off."

So far, CongressDaily reported Monday, former White House special adviser and longtime government computer security expert Howard Schmidt and former Clinton administration assistant defense secretary Frank Kramer are seen as front-runners for the job.

"The president is personally committed to finding the right person for this job, and a rigorous selection process is well underway," said White House spokesman Nick Shapiro.

USS Caffeine

One of the great benefits of working in the White House has got to be the perks. And one of the best perks may be the endless stream of soft drinks -- or pop, as we say in the Midwest -- both diet and sugared up, free for the taking at the White House mess. The drinks are provided by the Navy, which runs the mess.

These freebies are gratefully guzzled down by the White House staff, as they have been for at least the past 40 years. The government largess can save the addicted substantial sums of money. For example, let's pick a random staffer, say Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, known to be fond of diet drinks. Assume he's on the high-consumption end of the scale and drinks six Diet Cokes a day. (We hear it's 10, but that seems a lot.)

At a buck per drink, Orszag is saving $6 a day times six days a week -- like so many others, he takes his work seriously. So we're talking $36 a week or, subtracting a few weeks for vacation and travel, something approaching $1,500 a year in gifts, via the Navy, to the budget chief.

Well, it could be worse. Up until around the Nixon administration, we're told, the mess gave out free cigarettes.

Into the Records Fray

President Obama has nominated David S. Ferriero, chief executive of the research libraries at the New York Public Library, to be the archivist of the United States, a post that includes making sure highly sensitive presidential papers and electronic records are open and available to the public.

Before his New York job, Ferriero had been Duke University's librarian and had worked for 31 years before that in Massachusetts Institute of Technology libraries.

He succeeds Allen Weinstein, who resigned in December for health reasons.

The archivist job has become something of a lightning rod for controversy, particularly as various agencies and administrations press for keeping their records secret for decades despite strong pressures from historians and the public to declassify as much information as soon as possible.

The news comes two days before a scheduled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the National Archives and the lack of a permanent archivist.

The panel intends to question acting Archive officials about the disappearance of computer disks with information from the Clinton administration, including the Social Security numbers of several White House staffers and one of former vice president Al Gore's daughters.

Craig's New Gig

Keeping up with former senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) . . . Craig, who made a Minneapolis airport bathroom a major tourist attraction, has opened a consulting firm focusing on energy issues, according to the Associated Press. Craig has an office in Eagle, Idaho, and another here in Washington. He formed the company, New West Strategies, with Mike Ware, his former chief of staff.

OSHA Chief Nominated

The White House said Tuesday that epidemiologist David Michaels, a research professor in the department of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University, is Obama's pick to be assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

- With Alice Crites

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