Deputy Labor Secretary Seth Harris was named acting secretary last month after Hilda Solis stepped down.

Now, some Labor Department employees are wondering whether Harris has designs on ditching the “acting” from his title and getting the White House nod for the big job.

So far, his name isn’t among those most often mentioned for the nomination — but Harris, a former law professor who served in the department during the Bill Clinton administration, has made a recent push for visibility.

It didn’t go unnoticed that he was featured prominently in the latest edition of the Labor Department’s newsletter. Though Harris had been “acting” chief for less than two weeks when the internal publication came out, his quotes appeared in five articles, and his picture appeared twice (including a shot of him with Clinton).

Basically, if the department’s newsletter was Us Weekly, he’d be its Lindsay Lohan.

Harris has changed his Twitter handle to “ActingSecHarris,”and he’s been busy churning out quotes for news releases, with at least nine statements bearing his words.

Labor Department spokesman Carl Fillichio said all the activity has more to do with Harris’s personality and style than with his ambitions. “I’ve known Seth Harris for 20 years, and he’s just an enthusiastic and exuberant person,” he said. “He brings that to everything he does, and he’s been an enthusiastic and exuberant acting secretary.”

Still, Harris looks like someone who’s“acting” as if he wouldn’t mind being noticed.

Not De Niro?

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is loosening up now that his hours at the Pentagon are numbered. (Though the nomination of his replacement, former senator Chuck Hagel, seems gummed up in the Senate.)

On Thursday, he mentioned that he had some casting quibbles with the movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” which depicts the operation to kill Osama bin Laden.

Actor James Gandolfini portrayed the fictionalized version of Panetta, who was CIA director during the period the movie portrays. And we thought Panetta was okay with that choice — after all, he has said that Gandolfini did a “great job.” But he said Thursday that he would have preferred to see another Italian American actor in the role: Al Pacino.

Panetta was introducing former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton at a Pentagon ceremony in which she was given the Medal for Distinguished Public Service for her work in diplomacy. He said lots of flattering things about Clinton. But he added this aside after talking about the bin Laden operation: “There’s a movie about this,” he said. “The guy who plays me isn’t quite right. . . . I mean, my preference probably would have been Pacino.”

Panetta seems to have “Zero Dark Thirty” on the brain. He mentioned it at a news conference Wednesday, too. And at that same briefing, he was working just a little blue. Discussing the relationship between Congress and the executive branch, he bemoaned the strained state of affairs. “What I look for are members who are willing to work with us, to try to work our way through some tough issues and be able to find some solutions,” he said. “We need to find solutions. We can’t just sit here and b----.”

Sounds like, well, a tough-talking Pacino character.

The bench gets warmer

Movement on the judicial-confirmation front?

The Senate late Wednesday approved its first judge of 2013: William Kayatta of Maine, for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit. Since being appointed by President Obama, he’d been waiting about 10 months for that cliffhanger 88 to 12 vote. (After all, you don’t want to be too hasty on these matters.)

And the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday sent to the full Senate the nomination of Caitlin Halligan , a former New York solicitor general who clerked on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the Supreme Court, for a seat on that appeals court.

The committee, heading into a week-long recess, approved her nearly two years ago on a straight party-line vote of 10 to 8. This time the vote was 10-7, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) taking a pass.

Another appellate nominee, Patty Shwartz , was also voted out Thursday, on an 11 to 7 vote, with all Democrats and Graham voting in favor.

The committee, on voice vote, also sent nine U.S. District Court and two U.S. Court of International Trade nominees to the floor, where their fates continue to be most uncertain.

Senate Republicans have done very well slow-walking Obama’s judicial nominees — far better than Democrats did during George W. Bush’s presidency.

The White House calculates that at this point in their presidencies, President Clinton’s district and appeals court nominees waited an average of 114 days from nomination to confirmation and Bush’s nominees waited nearly twice as long, 209 days.

But Obama’s nominees have waited an average of 342 days. This “needless delay is unacceptable,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

Well, it may seem an odd way to run a country, but it’s not clear there’s going to be much change soon, absent some huge bipartisan agreement on these matters.

The gears of Justice

Tracy Schmaler , head of the Justice Department’s public affairs shop for the past four years, is going private, joining ASGK Public Strategies, the firm co-founded by former White House senior adviser David Axelrod.

Schmaler will be managing director and head of a new operation in Washington dealing with, among other things, crisis communications, litigation, and regulatory and congressional matters.

Before signing up at Justice, she oversaw Yahoo’s global public affairs office here, and before that she was communications director for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Her departure, expected next month, will add to a growing number of vacancies in the department’s top spots.

Justice looks to have “acting” people in charge of the civil division, the criminal division (as of March 1), national security (when CIA nominee John Brennan gets confirmed and Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco moves over to replace him at the White House), the office of legislative policy, the associate attorney general (the third-ranking official), the office of justice programs and, in March or April, the environmental and natural resources shop.

That’s about half the number of top officials.

With Emily Heil

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. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.