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Lessons From Richardson's Withdrawal

By Ed O'Keefe

President-elect Barack Obama listens as Commerce Secretary-designate New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, speaks during a news conference in Chicago on Dec. 3, 2008. (Photo by Charles Dharapak, AP)

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.

By Ed O'Keefe  | January 4, 2009; 5:50 PM ET
Categories:  Revolving Door  
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"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."

What makes us think there's another government post he wants? Hillary got the only one that really excited Richardson. With Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman in the Senate, there's no reason to go after a chair in that body. And he did his six terms in the House.

I'm guessing this grand jury probe will come to nothing (as so many do). It's getting to the point where you can't call yourself a successful politician unless you've been investigated at least once.

New Mexico is one of those states where politics has always been ethics-challenged. It's fully bipartisan; think back to last spring, when we were reading about US Attorney David Iglesias and the pressure he was under from Pete Domenici and Heather Wilson, both GOP stalwarts. You could probably ask the same questions about every contract that's been awarded over the past ten years.

Bill Richardson is a good politician. He knows it's all about timing. He'll stay right where he is, and after he leaves, he'll be back.

Posted by: Samson151 | January 4, 2009 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Omaba has already nominated Jane Lubchenco for Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere/NOAA Administrator. Richardson's withdrawal should not impact that.

Posted by: dbiz | January 4, 2009 6:22 PM | Report abuse

The Post and other major media outlets jumped on Sarah Palin's issues with her brother in law but somehow felt that the public had no need to know about this cloud over Richardson which was common news in New Mexico. Is there anything else about Obama and his picks that you feel we do not have to know?

Posted by: Ethicist | January 4, 2009 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Once again we see media bias in this story. These allegations were known and not reported. Obviously he withdrew because there is real heat and therefore evidence that he would be an embarassment if not sent to jail. Contrary to SAMSON 151's comment, the majority of GJ's produce an indictment, almost 95% of the time when the Feds are the are simply wrong or are trying to bend the truth like the obamaites in the media. God help the republicans if they had two Governors standing accused of Federal crimes...however, the liberal minority that is the media majority will keep a lid on all of it as they cannonize Obama. While we are at it....Lets see if obama keeps the terrorists at bay like President Bush and VP Cheney have done.

Posted by: jmrpmc | January 4, 2009 8:00 PM | Report abuse

All politicians have -cositas= little things hidden away, like in their closets. It comes down whether they get caught, or exposed in someway or another. From the top to the bottom, they are all in to get what they may for themselves. Be it legally or illegally!


Posted by: sabestu | January 4, 2009 8:33 PM | Report abuse

Corruption runs deep with Hussein Obama. The only way he won the election was by surrounding him self with people that would do anything unethical to win. Hussein Obama is the most corrupt politician this country has ever seen. It surely is a tragedy that he will be POTUS.

Posted by: BubbaSmith | January 4, 2009 9:22 PM | Report abuse

richardson was a real intellectual lightweight compared to the rest of the Obama team; the only reason he had been given the job in the first place was to make nice to the Hispanic community. Now Obama can get someone in the job with real trade and commerce credentials, someone with real brains.

Posted by: shmaryahoopizzaman | January 4, 2009 9:25 PM | Report abuse

He should have kept the beard.

Bill was too much of a lightweight for Sec of State. Even Commerce was a stretch. And as a corrupt politician, he's revealed to be a petty, small-time thinker. Governor of sleepy little New Mexico is about right. Enjoy that Chihuahuan desert, Bill!

Posted by: WylieD | January 4, 2009 9:56 PM | Report abuse

Sorry to see too many people giving into the cheap thrill of kicking a man (of whom they apparently know very little) when he's down. It must be so frustrating not to be sixth-graders beating up on the third-graders anymore. Glory days.

As for the fantasy that this "wasn't reported," I had seen plenty of reports about the investigation in the last few weeks in the mainstream media. The stories started small and gradually built as more reporting was done. So, while the news today was a great disappointment, it was not a surprise, as the story was slowly moving in that direction.

I hope the investigation comes to nothing and look forward to Richardson coming off the bench as the need arises later in the administration.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | January 4, 2009 10:47 PM | Report abuse

Here in New Mexico, as elsewhere no doubt, the saying is that a US Attorney can indict a ham sandwich if he wants to. No telling where this investigation will lead. Maybe nowhere, but it's been going on for some months and apparently was renewed with the recently convened 2009 grand jury.

Richardson has quite a PR machine and it is possible that the first posting here was sent by someone in his clean-up crew. This guy is always paints himself as the hero or victim.

Some of us in NM believe that financial contributions are required from those who want rewards of any kind from Richardson. It would be instructive to review the names of high dollar donors and correlate them with appointments, contracts or other benefits. The interesting question is when and how does this conduct become illegal?

Posted by: highdesertdiva | January 6, 2009 11:36 PM | Report abuse

Richardson is obscenely ambitious and would not have bowed out of his own accord for "the greater good". He was either escorted out or knows stuff is going to hit the fan and splash on him. Since he took office, his "favor-giving" at the expense of tax-payer money is legendary.
He doles out exempt jobs with high dollar paychecks while the State falls behind in education and programs for it's citizens.
His egotism and power hunger are the subject at many a gathering. Richardson's chickens have come home to roost and the FBI just might roast a few of them.

Posted by: mexicanMeg | January 7, 2009 12:47 AM | Report abuse

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