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A guide to President Obama’s recent Cabinet shuffling

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Confused about all the changes lately with President Obama’s Cabinet? In the past two months, Obama has nominated new department heads at a rate normally associated with post-election turnover or political turmoil.

In this case, the shuffling and replacements appear to be related to an alleged scandal with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the botched rollout of, which the Department of Health and Human Services appears to have corrected, based on its recent enrollment numbers.

Below is a list to guide you through the recent changes that have taken place in the wake of those problems:


Out: Robert Petzel, the undersecretary for health, resigned last week amid allegations that VA health clinics nationwide have  cooked their books to hide treatment delays, allowing the medical centers to falsely meet the department’s goal of seeing patients within 14 days of requesting an appointment. Several whistleblowers have said VA officials implemented the schemes to earn bonuses.

Robert Petzel, at a hearing with the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst).

Petzel’s forced resignation did little to assuage veterans groups and lawmakers who want VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to take strong action against department officials who are responsible for the alleged actions. The undersecretary had planned on retiring this year anyway, as the VA announced in September 2013.

Replacement nominee: Dr. Jeffrey Murawski, who heads a VA hospital network in the Midwest and teaches medicine at Loyola University Chicago. The White House has faced questions over this pick because the nominee oversaw a Chicago-area clinic that allegedly falsified its scheduling records.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday that a formal commission including outside health experts, researchers and representatives from veterans groups recommended Murawski to replace Petzel last year.

The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans service organization, has remained on the fence, saying it has no strong opinions on Murawski.


Out: Kathleen Sebelius, the HHS secretary who oversaw the failed launch of Glitches plagued the system early on and prevented users from signing up for health insurance through the new federal marketplace for the uninsured.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite).

Sebelius, who headed HHS for five years, resigned in April, less than two weeks after the department reported a sharp turnaround for the once-troubled Web site. The administration said more than 7 million Americans had enrolled for insurance through the system.

Replacement Nominee:  Sylvia Mathews Burwell, a relatively popular choice who now serves as White House budget director at the Office of Management and Budget. The Senate unanimously confirmed her last year for her current role, and lawmakers expressed virtually no resistance to her nomination for HHS secretary during a hearing this month.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite).

During her short time at OMB, Burwell, a graduate of Harvard and Oxford, helped the White House navigate last year’s fiscal battles that led to a temporary government shutdown, in addition to helping deal with health policy. She previously worked for charitable organizations including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wal-Mart Foundation. She also held several jobs with the Clinton administration.


Moving: Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who, as noted above, has been tapped to replace Sebelius at HHS.

Replacement nominee:  Shaun Donovan, who currently serves as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. White House officials have praised him for his work overseeing the government’s response to Hurricane Sandy.

Shaun Donovan. (Alex Wong/Getty Images).

As budget director, Donovan would play a central role in setting budget priorities and helping the White House negotiate fiscal deals with Congress, a goal that has proven elusive in recent years.


Moving: Secretary Shaun Donovan, who, as noted above, has been tapped to replace Burwell at OMB.

Replacement nominee: San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, widely considered to be a rising star in the Democratic ranks at the age of 39. Obama chose him to deliver the keynote address during the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. (AP/Charles Dharapak).

Many view Castro as a potential running mate for the eventual Democratic presidential nominee in 2016, as he could help the party maintain its strong support from the Hispanic community. Serving in Obama’s Cabinet could help him prepare for government and politics beyond the local level.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks(at)washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, and The Fed Page for more federal news. Submit news tips and suggestions to

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.



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Josh Hicks · May 20, 2014

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