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Re: Appointments: What’s taking so long? Some explanations.

The other day The Cable reported on foreign-policy community chatter about frustration and angst over why it seems to be taking so long for Obama’s appointments to be rolled out. Since then, a few sources have weighed in to give a glimpse into the mysterious process and efforts at explanation. (Some of them, mind you, ...

The other day The Cable reported on foreign-policy community chatter about frustration and angst over why it seems to be taking so long for Obama's appointments to be rolled out. Since then, a few sources have weighed in to give a glimpse into the mysterious process and efforts at explanation. (Some of them, mind you, also share the sense that it is indeed taking a long time.)

Several sources identified vetting as the main reason for the delay, particularly in the wake of the administration running into trouble over the Tom Daschle and William Lynn nominations.

"It's political vetting," one former Hill aide told The Cable. "By lawyers, looking through tax records, people's maids [legal status], etc." Some good people have been called by the administration to see if they would be interested in certain jobs and have said, "Take me off the list," he said, frustrated by the extended process.

The other day The Cable reported on foreign-policy community chatter about frustration and angst over why it seems to be taking so long for Obama’s appointments to be rolled out. Since then, a few sources have weighed in to give a glimpse into the mysterious process and efforts at explanation. (Some of them, mind you, also share the sense that it is indeed taking a long time.)

Several sources identified vetting as the main reason for the delay, particularly in the wake of the administration running into trouble over the Tom Daschle and William Lynn nominations.

"It’s political vetting," one former Hill aide told The Cable. "By lawyers, looking through tax records, people’s maids [legal status], etc." Some good people have been called by the administration to see if they would be interested in certain jobs and have said, "Take me off the list," he said, frustrated by the extended process.

According to the White House Web site, there have not been any people nominated to Senate-confirmable posts since Daschle withdrew his nomination to head Health and Human Services on Feb. 4. (Today, the White House announced the appointment of a nurse, Mary Wakefield, to head an agency within HHS charged with ensuring access to health care.)

One Democratic foreign-policy hand close to the administration said that people have been slotted for various positions, but the only announcement that will be made is their formal nomination and that will come as soon as they’ve been fully vetted, which takes more time then selecting people. Whoever goes through that process first is supposed to be announced, whether they are appointed to a more senior or more deputy position. There are two classes of citizens, he noted, the appointed/annointed, who do not require confirmation, and those, more extensively vetted, who do.

Those State Department appointments not requiring Senate confirmation have gotten into place more quickly in many cases, such as Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, George Mitchell, the U.S. special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and policy planning chief Anne-Marie Slaughter. On Friday in Seoul, Secretary of State Clinton announced that Fletcher School dean and former US ambassador to South Korea Stephen Bosworth would serve as the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy — another non-confirmable post.

"The administration has concluded that they can just appoint the top diplomats, bypassing Congress," another former official noted of the Holbrooke, Bosworth and Mitchell appointments. "An interesting precedent."

At the State Department, the only Senate-confirmable appointments officially announced to date are that of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, deputy secretaries of state James Steinberg and Jacob Lew, and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. All have been confirmed. At the Pentagon, the only appointments yet officially made are those of Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn, Comptroller Robert Hale, General Counsel Jeh Johnson, and under secretary of defense for policy Michèle Flournoy, in addition to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Several other people not requiring confirmation have started working at the Pentagon on a consultant basis. At the Treasury Department, the only appointment officially made so far is that of the secretary, Timothy Geithner.

A former senior U.S. official thought there was a reluctance to announce State Department assistant secretaries until all of the under secretaries had been officially rolled out. He suggested the decision on the under secretary of state for democracy and global affairs position ("G") may have been holding things up. (Sources had previously suggested among the top candidates for "G" were former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual, former Gore environmental and science advisor David Sandalow, and former State Department counselor and close Clinton advisor Wendy Sherman. Another source told The Cable he knew of one person who had turned down the job, but declined to identify the person. Multiple sources said in addition Sherman had declined the job. Pascual, Sherman and Sandalow did not respond to queries.)

But even for those already working in career positions inside the government, the appointment decision-making process appears very closely held. "A lot of people waiting to hear about assignments have remarked it is being handled with greater secrecy than usual," one U.S. official said. "We have all been told to be patient and not to get too worried."

At the State Department, some assistant secretaries expected to depart with the outgoing Bush administration were asked at the last minute to stay on indefinitely in the transition, causing according to some in the building a temporary sense of policy drift. "For a lot of issues, people are waiting for clarity," the U.S. official said. "For the general parameters of the policy. … There is no place where we have seen sweeping changes in policy yet." The administration is currently reviewing U.S. policy toward several countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.

And certainly, the short-staffed administration has been consumed with efforts to shore up the U.S. economy. "We have the stimulus, TARP 2," the former Hill aide continued. "At the Treasury Department, there has only been one official confirmed, the secretary. That’s it."

Laura Rozen writes The Cable daily at ForeignPolicy.com.

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