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Posted at 8:05 PM ET, 01/25/2011

State of the Union: Ken Salazar to serve as 'designated survivor'

By Ed O'Keefe

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will serve as the Obama administration's "designated survivor" this evening, the White House has announced.

Ken Salazar
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

With most of the federal government's senior leadership slated to sit in one room together during the State of the Union address, presidents routinely select at least one Cabinet secretary to skip the big speech to ensure a smooth transfer of power in the event of a catastrophic event.

The tradition dates back at least to the 1960s and the White House first publicly released the names of designated absentees during the Nixon administration, according to the Senate Historical Office.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan officially pulled the short straw in 2010, but Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also skipped the speech to attend a conference in London. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was chosen to stay away from Obama's first address to Congress in 2009.

Salazar joins a long list of interior secretaries who've skipped the speech. In fact, since 1984, the interior secretary has skipped the speech most often. Dirk Kempthorne did not attend Bush's final State of the Union address in 2008; Gale Norton stayed away in 2002; Bruce Babbitt was absent in 1993; Manuel Lujan kept his distance in 1991 and Donald P. Hodel did the honors in 1988.

Donald Evans, commerce secretary from 2001 to 2005, is the only Cabinet secretary to serve as designated survivor twice, in 2004 and 2005, according to the Senate Historian.

What does a Cabinet secretary do as "designated survivor"? Eat pizza or head to the theater, according to colleague Al Kamen.

Here's the full list of absent Cabinet secretaries since 1984:

January 27, 2010: Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan
February 24, 2009: Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
January 28, 2008: Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne
January 23, 2007: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
January 31, 2006: Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson
February 2, 2005: Commerce Secretary Donald Evans
January 20, 2004: Commerce Secretary Donald Evans
January 28, 2003: Attorney General John Ashcroft
January 29, 2002: Interior Secretary Gale Norton
February 27, 2001: Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi
January 27, 2000: Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson
January 19, 1999: HUD Secretary Andrew W. Cuomo
January 27, 1998: Commerce Secretary Bill Daley
February 4, 1997: Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman
January 30, 1996: HHS Secretary Donna Shalala
January 24, 1995: Transportation Secretary Federico Pena
January 25, 1994: Agriculture Secretary Mike Epsy
February 17, 1993: Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt
January 28, 1992: Agriculture Secretary Ed Madigan
January 29, 1991: Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan
January 31, 1990: Veterans Affairs Secretary Edward J. Derwinski
February 9, 1989: No absent cabinet member
January 25, 1988: Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel
January 27, 1987: Agriculture Secretary Richard Lyng
February 4, 1986: Agriculture Secretary John Block
February 6, 1985: Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige
January 25, 1984: HUD Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr.

Source: Senate Historical Office

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RELATED: Full Washington Post coverage of the State of the Union

By Ed O'Keefe  | January 25, 2011; 8:05 PM ET
Categories:  Administration  
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When Prince Charles and his sons travel, they go different planes.

Posted by: napatomed | January 25, 2011 9:55 PM | Report abuse

You know Ken Salazar MIGHT be an improvement!!

Our elected representatives have made this country a Cashrarocy and took away our Democracy.

Posted by: bkarpus | January 26, 2011 5:42 AM | Report abuse

How would the succession of the 49th in line for the presidency restore "Democracy"?

Posted by: getjiggly1 | January 26, 2011 10:00 AM | Report abuse

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