The Washington Post

The curse of the Cabinet

Energy Secretary Steven Chu is finding that ‘secretary’ is a dirty word. (Chip Somodevilla/GETTY IMAGES)

That was the case with former secretary of defense Bob Gates or — if he lasts another year --with current DOD chief Leon Panetta.

But in recent years, the odds that you may leave this town in obscurity or even ignominy seem to have increased dramatically.

The latest example is Secretary of Energy and Nobel Prize winner Stephen Chu, a justly famous physicist. Now he’s battling allegations of presiding over hugely wasteful grants to now-bankrupt Solyndra and two other firms and, the agency IG reported on Monday, to an electric transmission line project.

Colin Powell, a four-star general and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was secretary of state under Bush I. But, as Powell has lamented, his obituaries may well lead with his now-lamented speech at the United Nations that helped convince the country to go to war in Iraq.

Former Clinton Housing and Urban Development secretary Henry Cisneros, a rising star in Texas and national politics, left town in a cloud after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about payments he’d made to his mistress.

Former treasury secretary Paul O’Neill, the highly regarded former head of Alcoa, was bounced by President Bush. A predecessor, Robert Rubin, left with his standing enhanced -- but that hasn’t lasted long.

Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld left that job in 1977 on a high note to make a bundle in the private sector. The redux? Not so much.

A few officials, such as former HUD secretary and now New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have moved up. But others seem to have returned home to relative obscurity — it’s even hard to remember who they were.

Remember Clinton’s Commerce Secretary? William Daley? Whatever happened to him? Oh, yeah. . .

Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be cabinet secretaries.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

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