Diversity, Alacrity, Fraternity
President-elect Barack Obama’s expected announcement today of his last three Cabinet-level picks — outgoing Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) as secretary of transportation, former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk as U.S. trade representative and Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-Calif.) as secretary of labor — ends the first phase of what, so far, has been a smooth-running transition process.
White males, as they were in Bill Clinton’s first Cabinet, will find themselves again in the minority in the Obama regime. Of the 20 Cabinet-level positions, nine are to be filled by white men, two by white women (Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano), two by Asian Americans (Gen. Eric K. Shinseki and Steven Chu), three by Latinos (New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Sen. Ken Salazar and Solis), and four by African Americans (Eric H. Holder Jr., Susan E. Rice, Lisa P. Jackson and Kirk.)
The Obama transition team has also posted the fastest completion time for a Cabinet in 32 years, beating his recent predecessors by at least four days.
(It could be argued, however, that the current president’s truncated transition was even faster, filling 12 key posts in the first two weeks after the Supreme Court decision determined that George W. Bush had won the election, according to transition expert Paul C. Light. “Of course, it could be argued that Barry Bonds broke the home run record,” he added.)
And it appears the Obama team has also begun filling in the sub-Cabinet ranks much more quickly, with nominees for regulatory agencies, science positions and such, something that was “unprecedented,” Light said. Obama has also filled a substantial number of White House positions, even down to the deputy assistant level, giving those staffers ample time to learn their jobs.
Speaking of diversity, the Obama team has shown it can go very broad. But it’s been less noticed how adept it is at going narrow, very narrow, as in nominating two members of the same Harvard class of 1987, Shaun Donovan for secretary of housing and urban development and Arne Duncan for secretary of education.
But not just the same class. They also lived in the same Harvard dorm (they prefer to call them “houses”), Leverett House. In addition, their pictures are right next to each other’s in the Leverett House yearbook, where we learn further details on their merits for the job.
For example, Donovan has been acclaimed of late as the highly regarded housing administrator for New York City, a former top HUD official in the Clinton administration and an expert on affordable housing.
We find from the yearbook that he’s an expert on all manner of housing, with his home address at the time listed as 1040 Fifth Ave. in Manhattan, an exquisite location, overlooking Central Park and the reservoir and a stone’s throw from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Okay, maybe a little traffic noise on 85th Street, but you can’t have everything.)
And right below Donovan’s picture there’s Duncan, a basketball-playing pal of the president-elect’s. He has that important credential presaged in the yearbook, where it’s noted that he was co-captain of the varsity basketball team.
Brownie, We Hardly Knew Ye
Many folks heading to Washington for the inauguration — and all of us who are already here — are most concerned about whether a few million additional people will send the town into complete paralysis.
Well, not to worry — the Federal Emergency Management Agency is on the case, ready to make sure everything works out.
In preparing for the worst — an attack on millions of Obama’s guests on Jan. 20 — FEMA seems to have forgotten to plan for its own.
FEMA managers apparently will require 50 to 60 workers on Inauguration Day to staff the National Response Coordination Center, just steps from the Mall. But we’re told the brains behind the operation have not given employees any clues as to plans for feeding, sheltering and transporting them amid the chaos that will consume downtown Washington.
“There are no plans for feeding people, sheltering people — anything,” said Leo Bosner, head of FEMA’s employees union. “Given the poor planning we’ve seen out of our bosses the last couple of years, we’re kind of worried.”
FEMA spokeswoman Debbie Wing said it is not 100 percent certain that the agency will staff the downtown facility, and FEMA is considering staffing response coordinators at an alternative facility in the suburbs. Nonetheless, Wing said, managers will ensure that employees have what they need.
“We have made contingency plans for food and meals for the employees to be catered and also made accommodations for facilities, showers and cots and blankets,” Wing said.
So everyone just calm down. FEMA will naturally share those plans with its employees. There’s still more than a month to go.
Gracious Remark of the Week
The winner is Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), who rejected an offer to be U.S. trade representative. People who reject jobs offered by a president-elect often wax on and on about how deeply, deeply honored they are to be offered such a wonderful job, the job of their dreams, but family, other personal commitments or such things make it simply impossible to accept.
Not Becerra, an eight-term congressman who’s said to be eyeing the speakership. According to news reports, he told the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion that he declined to be considered because he didn’t think trade was important to the new administration.
“My concern was how much weight this position would have and I came to the conclusion that it would not be priority number one, and perhaps, not even priority number two or three,” he said.
That’s going to make Ron Kirk, who’s taking the job, feel all warm and toasty.
Witt Isn’t Returning
Speaking of FEMA, former chief James Lee Witt has taken himself out of the running — apparently for business and personal reasons — for his old job. Witt is said to be backing Mark Merritt, an ex-FEMA official who now works for Witt in their consulting firm. Former congressman Nick Lampson (D-Tex.), who won — and then lost — the House seat that former majority leader Tom DeLay once held, had been looking at the FEMA slot, we were told, but is now drifting toward some other options.
Let Us Know
Don’t forget: If you’ve gotten an invitation to one of those “previously scheduled” and important events at Blair House between Jan. 4 and Jan. 15, events so important that the White House couldn’t accommodate a request by the president-elect and his family to bunk there in that period, please send them to email@example.com.
If you’ve got news and tips on who may be getting jobs in the new administration, send those, too, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Any news on where Bush administration folks are headed? Send it to email@example.com.
With Philip Rucker
December 18, 2008; 9:34 PM ET
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