Who will stay and who will go in Obama’s second term?

Don Kettl, dean of School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, on The Federal Drive

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(This story has been updated from its original version to reflect the outcome of the presidential election and to include comments from Don Kettl of the University of Maryland.)

Although President Barack Obama is gearing up for four more years as Commander-in-Chief, the face of the Cabinet will see big changes, experts tell Federal News Radio.

So far, the President’s first-term Cabinet has had turnovers only in Defense and Commerce.



(This story has been updated from its original version to reflect the outcome of the presidential election and to include comments from Don Kettl of the University of Maryland.)

Although President Barack Obama is gearing up for four more years as Commander-in-Chief, the face of the Cabinet will see big changes, experts tell Federal News Radio.

So far, the President’s first-term Cabinet has had turnovers only in Defense and Commerce.

“The Obama people are very stable, which means that they’re also very tired. They’ve been there now for four years. You would expect the inner Cabinet to go — State, Treasury, Defense and Justice,” said Stephen Hess, senior fellow emeritus at the Brookings Institution, who served in the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations.

Already, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner have said they don’t plan to stay on for a second term.

Robert Hess, Brookings Institution (Photo: Brookings)

None of the other Cabinet members have stated publicly whether they plan to stay or go. But it’s likely that about half of Obama’s Cabinet will change over at the start of a second term, said Martha Joynt Kumar, political science professor at Towson University.

Filling those positions won’t be too much of a challenge because plenty of “smart people” are waiting for a chance to serve in those roles, said Don Kettl, dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, in an interview with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.

“Just who is a good question, and how many more musical chairs among Cabinet positions, I think, is a very interesting thing we’ll be watching,” Kettl said. “There’s going to be a little bit of a breather [after the election], but I suspect in the next week or two, we’re going to see a lot of shakeout.”

Speculation over Cabinet successors

Office of Management and Budget

Current Acting OMB Director Jeffrey Zients is among the likely officials to head the budget agency. Others are Doug Elmendorf, the director of the Congressional Budget Office; Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council; and Rob Nabors, head of legislative affairs at the White House, according to Government Executive.


Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has not publicly stated if he will stay on for a second Obama term. If Panetta does decide to step down, one contender for the job is Michele Flournoy, who is advising the Obama administration on its defense strategy. Flournoy is a former undersecretary of Defense for Policy, the highest Pentagon post achieved by a woman. A second-term Obama Defense Department would focus on cybersecurity, intelligence capabilities and Special Operations forces, Flournoy said in an interview with Federal News Radio.

Martha Joynt Kumar, Towson University (Photo: Towson)

Other possible Panetta replacements are Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carton, former Democratic Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, former Republican Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel and former secretary of State Colin Powell, CNN reports. Although he served under George W. Bush, Powell endorsed Obama for president.


Like Panetta, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has not said if he will stay or go if Obama is re-elected. However, CNN reports a possible replacement is Marine Corps General James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.


Clinton said she will stay as Secretary of State until her successor is confirmed. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is a top choice for the position. United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon are also on the short list.


With Geithner planning to make an exit in 2013, Erskine Bowles, chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, and retiring Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), are possible successors, Mark Calabria of the Cato Institute told Bloomberg News. Bowles helped craft the President’s deficit reduction plan, and Conrad is the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. Another top contender is Jacob Lew, Obama’s chief of staff and former director of the Office of Management and Budget. Lew could potentially play a huge role in a second Obama term if he “can close a lame-duck compact that somehow chops the deficit, avoids the hated sequester, and largely leaves Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security intact,” The Atlantic reports.


If Attorney General Eric Holder steps down, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is often cited as a successor. Other possibilities are Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Current legislators could also be contenders, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D- Mo.), reports National Journal.

Homeland Security

If Napolitano does land in the AG position, that leaves the Obama administration the task of nominating a DHS secretary. National Journal points to New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelley, law enforcement expert Bill Bratton and retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen as possible successors.

What would’ve happened if Romney won

Had Romney won the election, his transition team would have already had the groundwork for naming new Cabinet posts.

First, the administration would make key appointments for White House staff, including the chief of staff, personnel director and counsel, Kumar said.

The chief of staff is “one person who Mitt Romney knows in the back of his head who he’s appointing,” Hess said. Had Romney won, the chief of staff position likely would have gone to Mike Leavitt, head of the transition team.

The White House appointments are important in setting the decision-making agenda, including the ground rules for whom to appoint to the Cabinet, Kumar said.

“You have to decide whether, for example, people who have been lobbyists can be recruited into your administration,” Kumar said. “The Obama administration does not allow lobbyists … without a waiver.”

Gail Lovelace, former director of 2008 presidential transition for GSA (Photo Partnership for Public Service)
Prior to the election, the Romney campaign had assembled agency review teams to start gathering information on federal agencies — information that would guide Romney’s Cabinet appointment decisions, Kumar said. Although the teams would not have been able to go into the agencies until after the election and after signing a memorandum of understanding with the outgoing administration, the campaigns start putting the teams together in the summer so they can begin research based on public records, she said.

If Romney were elected, the General Services Administration would have taken a lead role in making sure all the office-space needs were in place for the incoming administration. GSA also coordinates travel, computer networks and clearances in the transition, per the Presidential Transition Act.

Gail Lovelace, former director of the presidential transition for GSA after the 2008 election, said the agency works with both campaigns prior to Election Day.

“There really isn’t a lot of time for an incoming president to prepare to take over administration, and so GSA wants to make sure whoever is elected can hit the ground running and not have to worry about what we call logistics,” said Lovelace, who was dubbed four years ago the “Godmother of the Transition.”

Additional legislation aims to make the transfer of presidential power even more seamless.

In 2004, a provision of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act allowed a presidential candidate to enter names of people for security clearances after nomination. And the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act of 2010 allowed GSA to offer its services immediately upon nomination, rather than waiting until Election Day.

“Congress passed [the 2010 law] in part to legitimize the whole notion of early planning — that instead of being something derided, like measuring the drapes, that in fact it is something that was a necessity in preparing for taking over government,” Kumar said.

(Federal News Radio’s full coverage of Election 2012 can be found here.)


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