Lessons From Richardson's Withdrawal
There's plenty to learn from Gov. Bill Richardson's (D-N.M.) decision to withdraw his name from consideration as the next secretary of commerce -- both about how the nomination process works and about how his decision could impact the near-term operations of the Commerce Department.
The governor apparently withdrew his name because "a grand jury in New Mexico is currently looking into charges of 'pay-to-play' in the awarding of a state contract to a company that contributed to Richardson," reports The Post's Michael D. Shear. Any cabinet nomination requires the support of key lawmakers and special interest groups and it's evident that Richardson and Obama aides must have realized that "pay-to-play" allegations similar to those affecting Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-Ill.) would hamper his ability get confirmed.
As James Baker, former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes in the Council for Excellence in Government's "Survivor's Guide to Presidential Appointments":
"It isn't merit alone that gets you a job. You have to do a campaign. You have to get all the interest groups that are involved in that subject to support you, or as many as you can, and as many important whose names would be recognized. That is also critical."
Second, Richardson's decision to withdraw his name may delay the Obama transition team's ability to pick appointees for other mid-level and managerial positions. There are at least five such jobs at Commerce that need to be filled quickly, according to the Council for Excellence in Government's "Prune Book":
Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST): "Leads the Commerce Department's non-regulatory scientific agency" with a budget of more than $930 million, the Prune Book states. "Many of the most pressing modern scientific challenges cannot be addressed without accurate standards of measurement. For example, there is widespread agreement that increasing fuel efficiency is one way to combat climate change, and NIST is the go-to source for fuel efficiency calculations."
Director, Bureau of the Census: "Whoever is next at the Bureau’s helm faces the challenge of making final preparations for the 23rd decennial census, which will be conducted on April 10, 2010," according to CEG. "Census forms will be delivered on that date to 130 million U.S. households and, when the final numbers are tallied, Census projects it will have counted 310 million people." As The Eye recently reported, "Estimates suggest the bureau could spend at least $2 billion visiting households that fail to return their census forms by the due date, April 1, 2010," meaning whoever gets the job faces a costly mission.
Under Secretary for Economic Affairs: "The Under Secretary for Economic Affairs runs the Commerce Department's Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA)," which includes the Census Bureau. The undersecretary also oversees "the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which determines the Gross Domestic Product and other important financial yardsticks."
Under Secretary for International Trade: "helps American businesses navigate the world economy, a job that took on renewed complexity and importance when the U.S financial crisis cascaded through global markets," according to the Prune Book.
Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator: Responsible for "a $4 billion civil sea-air agency, which includes the National Weather Service and the National Ocean Service," states the Prune Book. The Eye recently reported about the future of the Weather Service's relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration, an issue that will have to be resolved by the next NOAA administrator.
Finally, Richardson now joins a list of cabinet "Coulda Woulda Shouldas" -- including Zoe Baird, John Tower and Linda Chavez -- all qualified individuals who had to withdraw their nominations for personal reasons. It's an unfortunate list to join, but does not mean Richardson's government career is finished. His gubernatorial term runs until 2010 and should the "pay-to-play" allegations amount to nothing, it's possible that the Obama administration would name the former congressman, cabinet secretary, U.N. ambassador and presidential candidate to another government position.
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