Nov 14, 2008

World - US;Obama's strict standards for plum jobs

Stephen Collinson

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Anyone who wants one of the dizzying array of jobs in president-elect Barack Obama's administration had better be ready to lay bare their most closely-guarded secrets.

Applicants for government posts must respond to an exhaustive seven-page questionnaire probing deep into hidden corners of their personal and professional lives as well as those of their spouses and grown children.

What may be the most detailed burrowing ever into the background of potential government employees appears to be a bid by Obama's team to avoid personnel scandals that have plagued other presidential transitions.

Aides say the questionnaire, first reported by The New York Times, is in keeping with the president-elect's campaign promise to purge Washington of seamy influence peddling.

Transgressions like tax problems, criminal convictions, business snafus or membership in clubs which bar members due to race or gender could be a problem for potential nominees, if the questionnaire is to be believed.

Internet indiscretions may also bar someone from one of the thousands of jobs in the federal government turning over with the new administration.

"If you have ever sent an electronic communication, including but, not limited to an email, text message or instant message that could suggest a conflict of interest or be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family, or the president-elect if it were made public, please describe."

Potential applicants are also asked to detail every speech, newspaper column or blog post they have written and must even provide the URL of any websites in which they feature including Facebook or MySpace.

They must also list every cohabitant for the last 10 years and say whether they have ever owned a gun.

They must also testify that any domestic helpers they have employed were eligible to work in the United States. Several nominees of the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations foundered on such a technicality.

Stephanie Cutter, Obama's transition spokeswoman said the painstaking list of questions gelled with the president-elect's vow to clean up government.

"President-elect Obama made a commitment to change the way Washington does business and the vetting process exemplifies that," she said.

Obama has also published stringent new rules governing the terms under which lobbyists who petition the federal government can work on his transition.

If they are not put off by the stringent personal disclosures required, potential government workers can pore through the "Plum Book," a listing of over 7,000 senior level government jobs released on Wednesday.

Four thousand of the jobs are political appointments, and 1,100 require confirmation by the Senate.

The listings by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee -- of which Obama is a member -- include such top jobs as US Representative to the United Nations and administrator for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The tough posting of US coordinator for Afghanistan is listed as vacant, as Obama insists that the United States must refocus its military strategy on battling Taliban and Al-Qaeda remnants.

But there are also more obscure appointments up for grabs.

Someone is wanted for the post of deputy assistant director for endangered species in the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Over a week after his historic election victory on November 4, Obama stayed out of sight in his hometown of Chicago Thursday, working on putting together his administration before his inauguration on January 20.

The president-elect took his daughters to school in a Secret Service sports utility vehicle before heading off for his regular morning workout, then spent time at his transition headquarters in the city.

Later, he issued a statement resigning his Senate seat effective Sunday. Given his stratospheric rise to the pinnacle of US politics, he served less than one full term for Illinois, after winning the Senate seat in 2004.

"It has been one of the highest honors and privileges of my life to have served the people of Illinois in the United States Senate," Obama said in a statement.

"In a state that represents the crossroads of a nation, I have met so many men and women who've taken different journeys, but hold common hopes for their children's future.

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