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Eye Opener: Dec. 16, 2008

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Good morning! Lots of Federal news today including positive reviews for Obama's pick to lead HUD, a grand jury investigation into a contributor to New Mexico governor and energy secretary-designate Bill Richardson and a former defense contractor who gave more than $1 million in gifts to former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) has been sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison.

In other news...

Obama's Ambassadors: "Obama can publicly declare that he will not appoint ambassadors who have in effect secured their posts through financial contributions and who have little background to merit any such appointment," writes Morton Abramowitz in today's Post. The 30-year diplomat is now a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. "Indeed, he can further state that he will permit the appointment of non-career ambassadors -- usually 30 to 40 percent of our ambassadors -- only if they are uniquely appropriate for the job. Otherwise, ambassadorial positions will be reserved for experienced, capable career officials." More: "Changing our way of picking ambassadors could rid us of a long-standing political tradition not found in other countries. And it could do so without excluding from ambassadorships able people who are not career diplomats. Money and friendship may or may not coincide with merit, but they do not normally compensate for insufficient experience and commitment. This concern has been expressed by the American foreign service community -- including organizations such as the American Foreign Service Association and the American Academy of Diplomacy, which propose limiting non-career ambassadorial appointments to 10 percent."

Obama's Education, Interior Secretaries: Chicago schools executive Arne Duncan will be tapped today as the President-elect's education secretary, while Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) will be named as head of the Interior Department later this week. The Post's Anne E. Kornblut and Philip Rucker report that "Duncan, 44, has been chief executive of the Chicago public schools since 2001, steering the nation's third-largest school district, which has more than 400,000 students. Duncan was raised in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, not far from Obama's home, and is a longtime friend and basketball partner of the president-elect. He graduated from Harvard University, where he was co-captain of the basketball team, and he played professional basketball in Australia from 1987 to 1991. He returned to Chicago to direct the Ariel Education Initiative, which creates educational opportunities for youths on the South Side." Read The Fix's analysis of who might replace Salazar in the Senate and In The Loop's review of the Cabinet slots left to fill.

Secret Service Defends Shoe Incident: The agency tasked with protecting presidents, their spouses and former White House residents defended its actions in the infamous Iraqi shoe incident involving President Bush. Reports The Post's Dan Eggen: "William H. Pickle, a former Secret Service agent and former sergeant at arms in the Senate, said, 'Other than the shoes, the most deadly weapon in that room was probably going to be a chair or a pen.' He said there are limits to what security officers can do in such situations. 'Unless you isolate the president from human contact, I'm not sure you can entirely prevent someone from doing something like that,' Pickle said."

From the Private to Public Sector: Former TIME Magazine Washington bureau chief Jay Carney will serve as Vice President-elect Joe Biden's communications director reports The Post's Howard Kurtz. Chalk this up as a high-profile example of someone leaving a comfortable private sector existence to serve the next administration.

Mortgages From USDA?: The Wall Street Journal reports that builders and real-estate agents have started turning to the Agriculture Department for an obscure home-loan program. "Created in 1991 as a way to boost homeownership in rural areas, the program is being tapped by home buyers in overbuilt exurbs who are attracted to the no-money-down terms." More: "Volume has nearly doubled for these USDA-backed loans. The department insured $7 billion in loans during the 2008 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, up from $3.6 billion the previous year. In October and November, the agency has already insured some $1.7 billion in loans."

Meddling at Interior: "The inspector general of the Interior Department has found that agency officials often interfered with scientific work in order to limit protections for species at risk of becoming extinct, reviving attention to years of disputes over the Bush administration’s science policies," reports The New York Times. "In a report delivered to Congress on Monday, the inspector general, Earl E. Devaney, found serious flaws in the process that led to 15 decisions related to policies on endangered species. The report suggested that at least some of those decisions might need to be revisited under the Obama administration."

Events: The American Enterprise Institute hosts President Bush for a speech entitled, "Building a Foundation for the Future," expected to focus on domestic policy. The speech starts around 10:45 a.m. at the Mayflower Hotel.

This Day in History: On this date in 1773, the Boston Tea Party took place as American colonists boarded a British ship and dumped more than 300 chests of tea overboard to protest tea taxes. More here.

By Ed O'Keefe  | December 16, 2008; 7:35 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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