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Appointments: What’s taking so long?

With a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff source confirming that the committee has not yet been forwarded even under secretary of state nominations yet, much less the reams of assistant secretary nominees, ambassadors, and other assignments people are anxiously waiting to hear, the question is arising among Washington’s increasingly impatient foreign policy community: what’s taking ...

With a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff source confirming that the committee has not yet been forwarded even under secretary of state nominations yet, much less the reams of assistant secretary nominees, ambassadors, and other assignments people are anxiously waiting to hear, the question is arising among Washington’s increasingly impatient foreign policy community: what’s taking so long?

"A lot of people waiting to hear about assignments have remarked they are being handled with greater secrecy than usual," remarked one U.S. official, on condition of anonymity. "It’s a very deliberative, close-held process. I’m not sure if that’s because they don’t want it to leak out incorrectly, as with the Zinni stuff. We have all been told to be patient and not to get worried."

The official said for example, for the issue he works on, the new administration "only held their first major meeting on it last week at the deputies level. Which is understandable," he said. "They have only been in office less than a month."

One source expected to go in the new administration, who was part of the transition to the Clinton administration as well, said, "It’s not as ugly as that yet" when many senior officials were not being officially nominated until the early summer. Still he said, the wait this time too is stressful and aggravating.

People going into second, third and fourth tier posts at the State Department, Pentagon and other agencies are expected to remain incommunicado until the appointees above them are confirmed and in position. But maintaining such secrecy while continuing to work at other jobs in the meantime surrounded by people aware of their impending move can be difficult.

"Everyone is having a heart attack," says one Washington Democratic foreign policy hand. "But as per ambassadorships, it’s normal for embassies to turn over in the summer. Everyone forgets how slow the process is."

Another former Democratic foreign policy official said that adding to the frustration in the interim is that shortly before the inauguration, the Obama transition asked many under secretaries and assistant secretaries at both the Pentagon and State Department who had been expected to depart with the outgoing Bush administration to stay on indefinitely during the transition, rather than promote other career people to serve as acting heads in the interim. "What the hell do you want these people around for," the former official said. "How many holdovers from the Republicans are staying? It deprives the Democrats in the bureaucracy of the promotions to acting assistant secretary or acting DAS, which when they get that rank, they can parlay into jobs. What you have at best is paralysis."

Echoing the widespread perception by foreign policy hands of impatience with appointments by the new administration, one Hill source said that someone said to him the other day it already feels like Obama has been president for two years. "But it’s only been one month."

With a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff source confirming that the committee has not yet been forwarded even under secretary of state nominations yet, much less the reams of assistant secretary nominees, ambassadors, and other assignments people are anxiously waiting to hear, the question is arising among Washington’s increasingly impatient foreign policy community: what’s taking so long?

"A lot of people waiting to hear about assignments have remarked they are being handled with greater secrecy than usual," remarked one U.S. official, on condition of anonymity. "It’s a very deliberative, close-held process. I’m not sure if that’s because they don’t want it to leak out incorrectly, as with the Zinni stuff. We have all been told to be patient and not to get worried."

The official said for example, for the issue he works on, the new administration "only held their first major meeting on it last week at the deputies level. Which is understandable," he said. "They have only been in office less than a month."

One source expected to go in the new administration, who was part of the transition to the Clinton administration as well, said, "It’s not as ugly as that yet" when many senior officials were not being officially nominated until the early summer. Still he said, the wait this time too is stressful and aggravating.

People going into second, third and fourth tier posts at the State Department, Pentagon and other agencies are expected to remain incommunicado until the appointees above them are confirmed and in position. But maintaining such secrecy while continuing to work at other jobs in the meantime surrounded by people aware of their impending move can be difficult.

"Everyone is having a heart attack," says one Washington Democratic foreign policy hand. "But as per ambassadorships, it’s normal for embassies to turn over in the summer. Everyone forgets how slow the process is."

Another former Democratic foreign policy official said that adding to the frustration in the interim is that shortly before the inauguration, the Obama transition asked many under secretaries and assistant secretaries at both the Pentagon and State Department who had been expected to depart with the outgoing Bush administration to stay on indefinitely during the transition, rather than promote other career people to serve as acting heads in the interim. "What the hell do you want these people around for," the former official said. "How many holdovers from the Republicans are staying? It deprives the Democrats in the bureaucracy of the promotions to acting assistant secretary or acting DAS, which when they get that rank, they can parlay into jobs. What you have at best is paralysis."

Echoing the widespread perception by foreign policy hands of impatience with appointments by the new administration, one Hill source said that someone said to him the other day it already feels like Obama has been president for two years. "But it’s only been one month."

Laura Rozen writes The Cable daily at ForeignPolicy.com.