The Washington Post

Obama’s top speechwriter has his eyes on the White House exit signs


As Team Obama prepares for the president’s second inaugural address, there’s word that White House chief speechwriter Jon Favreau may leave the administration soon thereafter.

We hear he’s mulling various options but hasn’t made a decision about his second-term plans.

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

Favreau was only 27, the youngest chief speechwriter ever, four years ago when he helped craft and edit President Obama’s first inaugural address. And he’s also credited with penning some of Obama’s best stuff during the 2008 campaign.

Favreau became something of a celebrity in town for a while in the new administration, dating actress Rashida Jones, the daughter of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton.

But the gifted wordsmith, while still very much on the scene — there was that shirtless incident in a Georgetown bar in 2010 and then that long profile in GQ in June 2011 — has been less the celeb of late.

Unclear what the departure date will be, but most likely after the inaugural or after the State of the Union in February.

Taming the gotcha game?

Thinking of snagging a top position in the Obama administration, one that needs Senate confirmation? Have you seen “The Wizard of Oz” lately?

But the reality is more “Night of the Living Dead” than yellow brick road. As Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who knows the problems first-hand — he was confirmed in 1991 as secretary of education — puts it: The nomination process “has degenerated into a time-consuming, unfair ordeal that creates an ‘innocent until nominated’ syndrome.” That’s why people call it a “gotcha game.”

But help is on the way. A high-powered bipartisan group of current and former experts in politics, technology and personnel — led by Lisa Brown , a senior official at the Office of Management and Budget, and including Obama, Bush II and Clinton administration personnel chiefs — has come up with solid recommendations to streamline the paperwork blizzard that confounds hapless job-seekers.

Sure, it’s another “working group,” but this one was authorized by a recently enacted federal law. So this time may be different. Really.

The group — which includes FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce , Office of Government Ethics deputy general counsel Walter M. Shaub Jr. and former senators George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) — has been working closely with the 17 (that’s seventeen) Senate committees that confirm nominees, making sure there’s Senate buy-in.

The team’s recent report focuses on trimming and improving the forms applicants need to fill out on their bios and financial records.

Many of these various questionnaires haven’t really been updated for 60 years — although new questions are added after every dust-up. (Think nannies.)

Everyone’s favorite is the one on the basic government form that demands you list all the places you’ve ever traveled to. That was included in 1953, during the Cold War, when people didn’t travel nearly as much. Answering it now is a nightmare for many people.

And you may have to answer that question many times pre-nomination, and then for Senate consideration. Seems on average over half the questions on the existing administration and Senate forms are duplicated.

The working group recommends that time limits be put on various questions about lawsuits, speeches, writings and so on and to narrow questions to the most relevant. That way you don’t have to list that post-college flophouse you stayed in for six months maybe 25 years ago on that street you can’t recall.

The group has developed a “common set of core questions,” Brown told us, that is “being fine-tuned now.” (It’s something like the common college application.) That way, you answer the basic questions once and the various committees can then ask additional questions specifically related to their concerns.

An “electronic smart form” is to be developed so the answers “would be transmitted automatically” to the various forms. (Now that would be a thing of beauty.)

But we’ve had so many reports over the years, so why should anyone hope for change?

“There is a sense among the working group that there’s an appetite for this right now,” Brown said. ”There’s been a very positive reaction” to the common set of questions, she said, and “everyone agrees that this is something that can be implemented immediately.”

Would save everyone — from the applicants to the Senate committees — a lot of time.

One can only hope.

Should be some seats left . . .

This overseas jaunt might be a bit of a tough sell: Rep. Mark Amodei is trying to recruit colleagues to accompany him on a CODEL to Afghanistan . . . over Christmas.

The Nevada Republican, a freshman, sent a missive looking for folks to join him to celebrate the holiday with the troops on a trip that takes off Dec. 21 and doesn’t return to Washington until Dec. 29. Not that folks don’t want to visit the war zone to light the Yuletide fires, it’s just that most already have plans with their kith and kin that time of year. (This most definitely is not a Loop-recommended trip.)

And if we were betting types, we’d put money on Congress still being in session for most of that time, anyway, since the fiscal-cliff negotiations are likely to go right down to the wire.

But the Amodei staffer making the e-mail pitch offers one selling point to would-be attendees: “This may be one of the few remaining opportunities for your boss to visit Afghanistan before more troop reductions occur,” he writes.

For some, that might sound better than a home-cooked turkey.

The group can consist of a maximum of six members and one has to be a Dem, he writes.

Cue the strains of “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”

With Emily Heil

The blog:
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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