Dec 5, 2008

World - US;5 best jobs Obama has yet to fill

Ben Smith, Craig Gordon

It's slim pickings left for high-profile White House hopefuls, as bold-face names like Clinton and Gates have taken some of the plum postings. With the inner circle occupied, most of the jockeying now focuses on powerful, lower-profile sub-Cabinet positions.

But there are a few gems left for the taking as Barack Obama fills out his White House roster - including a few that might be uniquely Obama. The father of the Internet - working on a government salary? It could be.

Here's a look at the five best jobs left to be doled out by Obama. There isn't a lot here that would usually make big headlines, but they are jobs that could get a boost in stature given the economic meltdown and Obama's personal priorities.

Secretary of Energy

The list: Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm; Dan Reicher, ex-Clinton renewable energy chief, now at Google; Sonal Shah, who heads's global development efforts; Obama advisor Jason Grumet; John Bryson, retired chair at Edison International and hybrid car advocate; former Indiana Rep. Philip Sharp, Resources for the Future think tank.

Obama has made the greening of America in all forms - reducing dependence on foreign oil, boosting solar and wind power, increasing auto fuel efficiency, and using green technology to drive the economic recovery - a central part of his pitch for the White House, and the person in this job could ride herd on those activities.

It's true, the president-elect is talking less about energy these days, perhaps for fear of imposing any extra expenses on a staggering economy. But he made clear that he views solving U.S. energy problems as a high priority - and that the auto industry, in particular, needs get greener, so he could want someone strong here.

Obama at times has been vague on this front - he was pushed into a closer embrace of limited offshore drilling during the campaign when gas prices topped $4, but his heart didn't seem into it. Ditto nuclear power. He has backed off plans for a windfall profits tax on oil companies. But he seems strongly devoted to wind farms and solar energy - so much so that he's linked it to his economic recovery agenda, with a pledge to create "green" jobs in these developing industries where American lags behind Europe.

At present, the administration lacks a clear leader on environmental issues, and there's been some chatter about creating a climate "czar" outside the Cabinet system — a good enough job that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger seemed to flirt with it over the summer, though he's since demurred. Now former EPA chief Carol Browner is mentioned for climate post, or the cabinet job.

CIA/Director of National Intelligence

The list — CIA: Tim Roemer, a former Indiana congressman who served on the 9/11 Commission; Stephen Kappes, CIA's deputy director; Jane Harman, the one-time top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee; Jami Miscik, ex-CIA under President George W. Bush; John Gannon, former deputy director for intelligence at the CIA under Bill Clinton.

DNI — Retired Navy Adm. Dennis Blair, Roemer and Don Kerr, No. 2 official in the DNI office now.

The two most powerful, unfilled national security posts are at the top of the nation's intelligence community: The Director of National Intelligence, and the CIA Director. Obama appears to be looking for candidates who can navigate the notoriously treacherous internal waters, while sending a message of change about the Bush administration's interrogation policies. An apparent leading contender for CIA, John Brennan, dropped out last week over his ambiguous stance on torture, leaving it unclear whether Obama had a Plan B.

The DNI job is the top bureaucratic dog, but the CIA director's job of Chief Spy still holds a special stature in American political life. George Tenet managed to serve two presidents in the job - though he'll probably never use the phrase "slam dunk" again, after using it to describe the evidence of Iraqi WMDs.

The new appointees will have to work in the post-post-9/11 world, and figure out how to keep America safe without the wide berth given to the CIA under President George W. Bush. If Obama sticks to his word, gone are waterboarding, tactics that amount to torture and even Gitmo - but everyone will turn to this person on the day of next big attack and say, "How did we miss it?" More than that, however, the people in these posts will have to find ways to improve intelligence gathering and infiltrate terror networks - especially if Obama wants to catch Osama bin Laden someday, something he frequently criticized Bush for failing to do.

Secretary of Labor

The list: Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius; Granholm; Mary Beth Maxwell, executive director of American Rights at Work; Ed McElroy, former president of the American Federation of Teachers; former Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich; Maria Echaveste, former Clinton White House adviser.

Big Labor always felt a little on the outside looking in under the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton. The unions went all out for Obama, and they're expecting an ally in the job of labor secretary.

It may be too much to expect of a new secretary that he or she could "get in Larry Summers' face," as some in the labor movement hope, to push pro-union jobs and trade policy. But Obama will have to find a way to keep unions happy, and that task will fall to this secretary. One way will be to revive the enforcement mission of the labor department, moving more aggressively into policing workplace-standards issues than the Bush White House ever did.

Also, the labor secretary could quickly emerge as a key player in bailout negotiations with the auto industry, where unions are coming under growing pressure for givebacks to keep the Big 3 afloat. Look for that role to emerge particularly if Michigan's Granholm gets this post instead of energy.

Still, it could be an uphill battle. Labor right now is divided -- between the traditional AFL-CIO and the new Change to Win unions. And the labor secretary may struggle to be heard on an economic policy team already stacked with appointees who aren't particularly pro-union, like Summers, Tim Geithner, and Paul Volcker.

Chief Technology Officer

The list: Vinton Cerf, Google's "chief Internet evangelist;" Julius Genachowski, a former FCC counsel who helped set up Obama's campaign, and Symantec chief John W. Thompson.

Al Gore took a lot of grief for saying he invented the Internet, but Google's Vinton Cerf can come as close as anyone alive to making that boast with a straight face. And he might be in line for this job.

Obama supporters Facebooked and Twittered him into the White House, with a campaign that harnessed the Internet for fundraising and organizing like never before. So it's no surprise that he wants a top-level tech guy, sort of a mega-IT Desk for the government, as well as a policy voice who could work with a new Federal Communications Commission chair (another hot job) to promote Internet-friendly policy.

There are also hundreds of millions of dollars at stake: Governors on Tuesday told Obama that they want to pour some of the billions he'd spent on job-creating infrastructure improvements not merely on roads and bridges but on IT improvements like medical technology systems and broadband.

Someone from Google would certainly seem to have an inside line on the job - with CEO Eric Schmidt already whispering in Obama's ear on tech issues, and Cerf himself kicking in $2,500 toward the transition. Schmidt has said he doesn't want the job.

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