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Hager out, Whipple in as acting OPM director

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President Obama just named Kathie Ann Whipple to be acting director of the Office of Personnel Management. Whipple, who had been deputy general counsel, will immediately replace Michael Hager, who served as acting OPM director since last August.

Whipple thanked Obama for the appointment in a statement issued this morning:

I am humbled to have been designated by President Obama to serve as the acting director of OPM, an agency it has been my pleasure to serve for the past eight years. I look forward to leading OPM until the president appoints and the United States Senate confirms the next director.

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Obama names four assistant attorneys general

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President Obama has just filled four assistant attorney general slots:

  • David Kris is assistant AG for national security.
  • Tony West is assistant AG for the Justice Department’s civil division.
  • Lanny Breuer is assistant AG for Justice’s criminal division.
  • Christine Varney is assistant AG for the antitrust division.
David Kris

David Kris

Kris was associate deputy attorney general from 2000 to 2003, where he supervised the government’s use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. But Kris had serious reservations about the Bush administration’s legal justifications for warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens and residents, and went public with his concerns three years after leaving Justice.

West is a former federal prosecutor and was special assistant attorney general for California.

Breuer is a partner at the Washington law firm Covington and Burling, where attorney general-nominee Eric Holder also served as partner. He was special counsel to President Clinton and defended Clinton during his impeachment. New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens also hired Breuer last year to represent him during Congress’ investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional baseball.

Varney has served on the Federal Trade Commission and now heads the Internet practice group for the Washington law firm Hogan and Hartson.

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Committee apologizes for inaugural snafu

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If you had a ticket for Tuesday’s inauguration and couldn’t get in, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies would like to apologize.

The Washington Post reported today that nearly 4,000 ticketholders, most in the blue or purple sections, were shut out of the inauguration by police officers who said the sections were full, despite visitors lining up at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. At one point, the line for one of the gates stretched into the Interstate 395 tunnel underneath the Reflecting Pool. Ticketholders reported that officers weren’t receiving communications from others regarding the situation and crowds began to panic as the ceremony started.

In the statement, the committee said the sheer number of visitors was overwhelming:

“Many of the problems appear to have been due to the unprecedented crowds, and a huge flow of unticketed people toward the U.S. Capitol and into the 3rd Street tunnel from the National Mall, after it had reached capacity very early that morning and was closed. We realize how important this inauguration was to so many people and the difficulties they endured to get here, so once again we deeply apologize to those guests who were not admitted.”

The statement said the committee and involved law enforcement agencies will investigate. It also states the number of tickets distributed was based on previous inaugurations plus analysis of how many people could safety stand in the ticketed area.

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Senate committee approves Clinton nomination

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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning approved Hillary Clinton’s nomination to be Secretary of State on a 16 to 1 vote. Clinton must now face a vote before the entire Senate, but she enjoys strong support among her former colleagues and her confirmation is expected.

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Berry to OPM? Not so fast

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The speculation that President-elect Barack Obama has all but named National Zoo Director John Berry to be the next Office of Personnel Management director may be a little premature. Federal Times has just learned that Berry told a Senate staffer yesterday that Obama has not offered him the job yet, though he has been engaged in preliminary discussions with the transition team.

So while it looks like Berry is indeed in the running, OPM is not as close to having a new boss as we thought yesterday.

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Senator: Management of State top priority for Clinton

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Clinton and Obama

Clinton and Obama

I just got off a conference call with Sen. Robert Casey, D-Penn., about his meeting today with Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton. Casey, who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that will consider Clinton’s nomination Jan. 13, said he is very pleased with the direction Clinton wants to take State and expects she’ll be easily confirmed.

Most of today’s meeting dealt with State’s management, budget and personnel issues, Casey said, which will be among Clinton’s primary concerns. And one of Clinton’s first actions at State will be to elevate management issues to the deputy secretary level.

Eight years ago, Congress created a deputy secretary for management and resources position at State, but it was never officially filled and the job got busted down to undersecretary for management. Casey is glad to see Clinton restore clout to the management position, and said her selection of former Office of Management and Budget director Jacob Lew is the right move to make sure State’s initiatives succeed. “You can have all the right policies and goals, but if you can’t manage and don’t have someone whose expertise is in the world of budgets and dollars, you won’t be successful,” Casey said.

Casey said Clinton is also concerned that the Foreign Service is understaffed and could hire more, though he said Clinton did not say how many she’d like to hire. Casey also said State should improve its training of Foreign Service officers to keep their skills sharp when they are between assignments.

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Daschle kicks off confirmation hearings

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Former Sen. Tom Daschle’s appearance before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee today marked the first confirmation hearing for the slate of Senate confirmable nominees named by President-elect Barack Obama over the past two months.

During the hearing, which marked Chairman Edward Kennedy’s return to Capitol Hill after treatment for a brain tumor, Daschle repeatedly emphasized his commitment to improving efficiency and innovating America’s health care system. Senators also challenged him to improve civil servants’ morale within HHS and to make the department more effective and accountable.

Daschle spoke of the health crisis facing Native Americans, citing that more than 40 percent of South Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation’s residents age 40 and older have diabetes and the life expectancy is 47 years old. He pledged to focus efforts to improve the quality of care the Indian Health Service provides.

“I will also make sure the health disparities affecting all other minority and underserved populations are acknowledged and addressed,” he said.

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Sanjay Gupta for surgeon general?

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That’s the word on the Hill and in today’s newspapers, and CNN has all but confirmed that its medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, will be President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for surgeon general.

When word spread yesterday that Obama had discussed the position with Gupta, it led to a lot of head scratching and “really?” comments on the Hill. Though a distinguished Atlanta neurosurgeon and professor, Gupta is best known to most Americans as a prolific television commentator. However, he served as an adviser to the Clinton White House, helping craft health care speeches and policy for Hillary Clinton.

According to an article in today’s Washington Post, some have concerns about Gupta’s participation in TV health-care coverage, a beat that often stresses style over substance. Others say he’ll bring a new era of communication to health care. Members of Congress have been quiet so far on Gupta — perhaps they’re still in shock over learning Leon Panetta was Obama’s choice to lead the Central Intelligence Agency.

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Obama presents four new nominees

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President-elect Barack Obama took to the stage Friday afternoon in Chicago to announce four nominees for labor and transportation positions: Rep. Hilda Solis as labor secretary, Rep. Ray LaHood as transportation secretary, former Dallas secretary Ron Kirk as U.S. trade representative and Maine venture capitalist Karen Mills to lead the Small Business Administration.

With labor and transportation announced, Obama rounded out his Cabinet today and took a moment to brag about his speediness in filling the Cabinet.

With these outstanding appointees, I have filled out our economic team, and done so at an earlier point than any President in history, because we face challenges unlike any we have faced in generations.

Solis, D-Calif., has been a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s labor policies and is on the board of American Rights at Work, a pro-labor group. Obama said Solis will be charged with improving Labor’s focus on working families as well as creating fair negotiations between unions and businesses.

LaHood, R-Ill., will bring bipartisan support to modernizing the nation’s infrastructure and upgrading public transit. He’s long been a proponent of both public transportation as well as improving biking and running trails.

Kirk is a partner at Vinson & Elkins, a Houston-based lobbying and law firm. He’ll be in charge of promoting trade while ensuring fairness for workers, Obama said.

Mills will have to address Obama’s priorities for the SBA, including spurring job growth and supporting small businesses. She’ll also have to tackle other systemic issues at SBA, such as staffing and management of its procurement programs.

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Tell Daschle how to fix health care

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Tom Daschle, the nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services, wants to know how you’d change the nation’s health care system.

That’s according to an e-mail sent by John Podesta, co-chair of the Obama-Biden Transition Project. He’s inviting people to create health care forum discussions about what needs to be changed and promises the transition team will take those opinions seriously.

“Secretary-designate Daschle is committed to reforming health care from the ground up, which is why he won’t just be reading the results of these discussions — he’ll be attending a few himself,” Podesta wrote in the e-mail, sent to subscribers to Obama’s campaign mailings as well as to reporters.

You can watch a video with Daschle or sign up for a discussion here. Sign-ups continue through Dec. 31.

So do you think the administration will really take these suggestions seriously? And most importantly, how long before the discussions degrade into personal attacks and spam invites to buy prescription drugs for cheap, like the rest of the Internet?

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