During a recent hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski of Alaska paid Interior Secretary Bruce E. Babbitt a telling, if backhanded, compliment. Clearly frustrated by Babbitt's practice of skirting the jurisdiction of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources by slipping far-reaching policy provisions into his annual operating budgets, Committee Chairman Murkowski beseeched Babbitt to quit circumventing him.
"So we have a situation, Mr. Secretary, where you are, I guess, going to appeal to the appropriators [and] exclude the authorization process of the committee," Murkowski lectured Babbitt. "I would encourage you to give us an opportunity to sit down with your budget folks and see if we can come to grips with the reality that this committee has an oversight responsibility . . . ."
Murkowski's tone was somewhere between requesting and threatening, but in the very act of reminding Babbitt of how things are supposed to work in Washington, the committee chairman provided testimony to Babbitt's quiet effectiveness.
The dynamic between Murkowski and Babbitt-between lawmaker and regulator, he who would oversee and he who would avoid oversight-is not a rarity in Washington these days. President Clinton's Cabinet members have now surpassed Ronald Reagan's for the longest average time in office of any modern President's. The average tenure for a Reagan Cabinet official was 3.27 years-nearly twice the average in Richard Nixon's Cabinet, and almost a year longer than the average in the Cabinets of Jimmy Carter and George Bush. Clinton's Cabinet average is now up to 3.36 years-and growing, according to Gettysburg College political science professor Shirley Anne Warshaw, the scholar who unearthed this fact. The Clintonites' duration would be even be more impressive if not for the death of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and the unplanned departures of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry G. Cisneros and Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy-both forced out by independent prosecutors' investigations.
"President Clinton brought in people, I believe, who were deeply committed to seeing their initiatives completed," Warshaw says. "On average, they're staying longer than anyone else [in former Cabinets]."
Indeed, Babbitt is just one of many Cabinet members, Cabinet-rank officials, undersecretaries, and other top political appointees who have stayed longer than most of their predecessors. Theories abound as to why this is so. One possible reason: Democrats, by their orientation toward government solutions to national problems, seem more comfortable in federal offices than Republicans. Another: Some of the Clintonites were so young when they were appointed that this is the best job they've ever had. For whatever reason, the top appointees in the executive branch under Clinton are part of an unplanned experiment in governance. Call it the Rule of the Tenured Administration.
Casual observers might be under the contrary impression-that Clinton's administration has been beset by heavy turnover in jobs that are usually stable. After all, this President is now on his fifth White House counsel, his fifth spokesperson, and his fourth chief of staff. He's had three Secretaries of Defense and, with last week's resignation announcement by Robert E. Rubin, he will soon have had three Treasury Secretaries as well.
But in some of these moves, there is less than meets the eye. Two White House chiefs of staff, Erskine B. Bowles and John D. Podesta, were former deputy White House chiefs of staff who left the administration briefly and returned. Another, Leon E. Panetta, moved over from his post as budget director; the man who held the job first, Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty III, stayed on at the White House in another capacity for nearly four years. "No one ever leaves!" former Press Secretary Michael McCurry once quipped in mock horror when asked about the lingering Clintonites. "And when new people come in, it turns out they are recycled." White House domestic policy aide Bruce N. Reed, who has been advising Clinton since the 1992 campaign, put it this way: "I'm a Clinton lifer."
There are a lot of Clinton lifers, even more in the agencies, as it turns out, than in the White House. In some ways, this seems unlikely. Clinton rarely even holds Cabinet meetings anymore-he's had two in the past year and half-and the rationale behind the appointments of the department heads was, at least at the start, more about politics than policy.
"The vetters called it the 'EGG test'-Ethnicity, Gender, Geography," Warshaw recalls. "But in order to meet this test, Clinton put together a Cabinet of people he didn't know well." Warshaw believes that Clinton, in his second term, has grown more comfortable with those Cabinet members who've stayed on. Or perhaps they've just become more comfortable in their jobs on their own. But on the key question of whether tenure translates into heightened effectiveness, few observers have any doubt. "Sure, it helps them be more effective-it's got to," says Bert A. Rockman, a presidential scholar at the University of Pittsburgh. "And it feeds on itself: The ones who are more effective tend to stick around."
Terry M. Moe, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, adds: "There isn't a lot of controversy among the people who study this. The longer [the Cabinet officers] stay in office, the more time they have to develop an expertise, gain an understanding of the politics, and learn how to deal with civil service subordinates. One of the problems of political appointees is that they tend to be dilettantes. They make mistakes because they're new on the job, they get taken advantage of-by people above them and below them-and by the time they figure things out, they're gone."
Even University of Texas political scientist Bruce Buchanan, noted for his skepticism about the efficacy of presidential second terms, agrees there is a value to experience.
"Historically, in second terms, political viability tends to erode, the President's appointees have tired blood, and they've all spent their last wad getting [the President] re-elected," Buchanan says. "But the learning curve improves, no doubt about it. There's institutional memory and a level of expertise-at least on the part of those who've stayed."
And stay they have. In agency after agency-Education, Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency-the current Cabinet Secretaries or top administrators are serving longer than any of their predecessors did. "I've been here longer than William Ruckelshaus-and he had two separate stints in the job," quipped EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner.
Longevity is "hugely helpful," she adds. "You've just got to be here a while to do some of these things."
Keeping the White House at Bay
Browner, with the backing of Vice President Al Gore-her patron saint-had a list of things she wanted to do the day she arrived in Washington in 1993. The Clean Water Act, passed two decades early, had lapsed in 1992, and it needed a reauthorization that reflected new science and addressed new industrial problems. EPA's Superfund program was bogged down in litigation and paperwork, cleaning too few sites, and giving too much of its cleanup money to lawyers. Global warming, Gore's pet subject, had become an international issue in which the United States was going to be forced to take a position-whether it wanted to or not.
In the ensuing years, Browner has learned a few basic lessons. For one, she learned that the EPA can no longer count on Congress-whether it is controlled by Democrats or Republicans-to strengthen or modernize environmental law. And although she studiously avoids characterizing it this way, she learned that, despite Gore's support, she could not always rely on the President to back her on the politically more dangerous environmental issues.
Browner's education in this regard started right away. In 1993, as part of its first budget plan, the White House proposed an energy tax, designed not just to raise revenues, but to cut consumption. This was very much in keeping with Gore's emphasis on lowering the emissions of pollutants that cause smog, acid rain-and global warming. In his 1992 book, Earth in the Balance, Gore characterized the pollution caused by automobiles as "a mortal threat to the security of every nation, that is more deadly than that of any military enemy we are ever again likely to confront." But when oil-state Senators complained about the White House-proposed energy tax in 1992, Clinton abruptly pulled the plug on the idea-even though it had already passed the House-and settled for a modest increase in the federal gasoline tax.
That was the last time Browner would lose on her clean air crusade, at least inside the administration.
In November 1996, she proposed a new set of clean air regulations so strict that criticism came not just from all the usual sources-Detroit, the oil industry, and the conservative press-but also from inside the administration. The White House economic team fought her, and not just behind closed doors. In early 1997, Gene B. Sperling, director of Clinton's National Economic Council, and Kathleen A. McGinty, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, publicly urged Browner to increase by 20 percent the limit on particulate matter allowed into the air. When Browner balked, McGinty-who, like Browner, was a former Gore aide-said publicly, "Who does she think she is, Joan of Arc?" Even two members of Gore's staff leaked word that the Veep was "furious" that his former aide hadn't consulted him more closely.
If Browner was intimidated by this kind of talk, she did a good job of hiding it. In interviews, she replied calmly that it was Gore himself who had taught her "to stand up for what I believe in."
Meanwhile, Browner's allies came to her defense. In Iowa and New Hampshire-two states chosen not quite at random-the Sierra Club ran ads prodding the President and Vice President to "stand up to the special interests [and] protect our children from pollution." It was language appropriated from the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election effort, and it made its point. Clinton put in a private phone call to Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, assuring him that he would support Browner, and asking Pope to lay off Gore. Clinton did ultimately back Browner.
"I think she put [Clinton] in a box from which he could not escape," said Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., an opponent of the tough standards.
A year later, however, Browner again pushed the administration's envelope. The subject was the international global-warming conference in Kyoto, Japan. This time, Gore made a public point of backing up his former protegee, flying to Kyoto to personally help her negotiate.
These days, when an agency head has used the media or public opinion to position the President in a place where he might not be entirely comfortable, White House officials might describe that administrator as "pulling a Browner." This is not intended as a compliment. But it carries with it a grudging respect.
Another Cabinet officer recognized inside the administration for pushing the system until it bends to her demands is HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala. In 1996, while going around the country speaking about welfare reform, Shalala was surprised to hear senior citizens routinely express outrage at the level of fraud in Medicare.
Shalala started looking for a way to finance a huge enforcement effort against health providers who were gouging the government. She settled on a plan of borrowing money from the Medicare trust fund and paying it back from fines, on a revolving basis. This effort, Operation Restore Trust, has been a success story, retrieving upwards of eight dollars for every one spent on enforcement costs. Moreover, in putting the fear of God into the nursing home industry and other providers, HHS has positively affected the long-term solvency of Medicare, according to the Medicare trustees.
"That would not have happened," Shalala says bluntly, "if we had come in and out of here in 18 months."
It almost didn't happen at all. "We convinced Congress, after a bitter fight at [the Office of Management and Budget], to let us use the trust fund in a revolving account," Shalala recalls. "The Republicans were always more enthusiastic about the way we wanted to finance this than the OMB. The OMB has rules!"
But those rules, as well as the whims of skittish political aides working for the President, can sometimes be overcome by a little dose of tenure.
"What a Cabinet officer does has changed dramatically . . . starting with Nixon, when the White House took command and began to micromanage everything," says Babbitt. "All the energy was sucked out of the Cabinet agencies by 20-somethings in the White House who thought they knew everything."
In an interview in his spacious office at the Interior Department, Babbitt says that what he learned was that there is an "inverse relationship" between what's important in the agency and what White House political aides are interested in. "If you conceptualize your job as being about big issues-and not about what's in the newspapers today-you have almost total freedom."
Babbitt recalls receiving a call in 1996 during a bad forest fire season from an agitated Chief of Staff Panetta, who in turn had been roused to action by a frantic Long Island member of Congress. "There was a fire up there. Leon wanted to know, `What are we going to be doing in the next 24 hours? How many tankers can we get up there? How many helicopters?' "
It seemed as good a time as any to tell the White House chief of staff that in the previous two years, Babbitt and Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman had completely revamped the government's entire approach to fire fighting on federal lands. "Let it burn" was now administration policy-and Babbitt had money quietly appropriated by Congress to prove it.
Going Around Congress
All modern Presidents and their aides have an instinct to make policy on their own, but the 1994 elections that swept Republicans into power in both houses of Congress wonderfully concentrated the minds of Clinton officials on new ways of doing business. According to former top aide George Stephanopoulos, the turning point in this regard may have come in late January 1995.
"He had just had his head handed to him" in the midterm elections, Stephanopoulos recalled in an interview. In that unpromising moment, an unwelcome problem presented itself-the precipitous fall of the Mexican peso. Clinton called an Oval Office meeting to hear his options. Seated on a couch were Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, and the new Treasury Secretary, Robert E. Rubin. Republican leaders Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich had originally promised widespread GOP support for a quickly cobbled-together bailout bill. But rumblings of GOP mutiny swiftly changed their minds, and they sheepishly informed the President that they could deliver only half their caucus-and that he would need to pin down roughly half the Democrats. This was going to be a tough sell, but doing nothing, the trio of advisers on his couch was telling Clinton, was a prescription for a real disaster.
But there was one way out, according to Rubin. As the Treasury Secretary explained it, Clinton had the authority on his own to commit some $20 billion in loans to Mexico. "The President just thought about it for a brief moment," Stephanopoulos recalled, "then said, `Let's do it.' "
And that's what they've been doing.
In 1993, when Babbitt took office, the White House had already taken aim at a host of statutes related to Western land use that environmentalists had wanted to change for years. The two that received the most attention concerned mining and grazing. The Mining Act of 1872 allows mining companies, many of them foreign-owned, to take title to federal lands for as little as $2.50 per acre-and to pay no royalties. Grazing law allows ranchers to run cattle on Bureau of Land Management acreage while paying only $1.86 per month per cow. OMB, seeking to raise revenue-at least on paper-calculated that tripling the grazing fees and charging royalties of 12.5 percent on mining claims could generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the Treasury.
These estimates seemed fanciful-even Babbitt scoffed at them-but the real impetus for the changes wasn't coming from OMB-it was coming from environmentalists. The environmentalists' strategy was to place high enough hurdles in the paths of mining companies and cattle growers to make mining and cattle grazing on arid and easily damaged public lands unprofitable. Then the land could be taken out of production, and set aside for conservation.
Western Senators picked up on this ploy pretty quickly-and forced Clinton to back down on his legislative proposals. Six and a half years later, however, environmentalists are well on their way to accomplishing both of their original policy goals-without legislation. All across the West, the BLM is moving to curtail grazing, and doing so in a way that hasn't brought a concerted response from Western Senators, who seem content with knowing that the grazing fees have actually dropped to $1.35 per month. But radical change is being accomplished, one grazing lease at a time. The method is simple. As these leases come up for renewal, BLM administrators are cutting the numbers of cows allowable under the allotments on fragile parcels of land-sometimes by as much as 85 percent. This policy is being bolstered by other strategies: Urban Western counties are themselves buying up leases and ranch lands; environmental groups are bidding on state-owned allotments; the USDA's Forest Service is tightening its adherence to the Endangered Species Act.
The upshot? "They're squeezing us out," says Cliven Budy, a rancher in southern Nevada.
On mining law, the administration has employed a wide array of strategies to block big, open-pit mines in the West. In 1996, Interior paid Noranda Inc., a Canadian conglomerate, some $40 million for a huge mining claim near Yellowstone National Park. On Feb. 3 of this year, apparently to stop the efforts of a Wyoming miner who took out 120 claims in Montana, Forest Service chief Michael P. Dombeck proposed a two-year moratorium on mining on 429,000 acres in Montana's Rocky Mountain Front.
Then, earlier this month, in an unexpected bureaucratic move that jolted the mining industry, the Interior Department and the USDA announced in a joint letter that their reading of the 1872 mining law precludes the construction of the proposed Crown Jewel Mine in northernmost Washington state. Theirs is a stunningly broad-some would say imaginative-reading of the statute and, if upheld by the courts, it could essentially end open-pit mining in the West.
Citing wording in the law that limits each mining claim to five acres for "mill sites"-the ponds in which tailings are stored-two government lawyers said that the proposal by Battle Mountain Gold Co., a Houston-based mining outfit, exceeds that limit by some 500 acres.
"This has very little to do with the Crown Jewel project and everything to do with Secretary Babbitt and his rogue solicitor trying to leverage mining law reform," fumed Laura Skaer, executive director of the Northwest Mining Association. Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., became so unhinged by the administration's power play that he publicly berated Babbitt and then threatened to attach a rider undoing the policy to the appropriations bill for Kosovo refugees.
This example raises a point that must be made, however: At one level, increased effectiveness is in the eye of the beholder. Frank Murkowski, for example, might say-in fact, in an interview he did say--that although Babbitt and Browner are certainly effective, they are effective in pursuit of an agenda he finds extremist, elitist, technophobic, and hostile to the legitimate aspirations of miners, loggers, fishermen, native Alaskans, and others who'd like to make their living off the land.
But Babbitt is proud of what he is doing-and proud of how he's doing it.
"When I got to town, what I didn't know was that we didn't need more legislation," he says. "But we looked around and saw we had authority to regulate grazing policies. It took 18 months to draft new grazing regulations. On mining, we have also found that we already had authority over, well, probably two-thirds of the issues in contention. We've switched the rules of the game. We're not trying to do anything legislatively."
At the EPA, Browner-also without the benefit of authorizing legislation-has streamlined the procedures for cleaning up the abandoned inner-city industrial sites known as "brownfields"; nearly doubled the list of chemicals whose release into the atmosphere companies must disclose publicly, under the EPA's community "right-to-know" regulations; and, under a directive from Al Gore, teamed with USDA to write a blueprint for water cleanup that is nothing short of an administrative rewrite of the Clean Water Act.
"We completely understand all of the executive tools that are available to us," says Browner. "And, boy, do we use them."
Another approach to the business of making friends and influencing people in Washington might be called the Southern Gentleman model. Its most successful practitioner is probably Education Secretary Richard W. Riley.
The Education Department does not have 500 million acres of land, doesn't have the power to shut down a state's welfare system or take over its prisons. It contributes no more than 7 percent or 8 percent of the money used for the education of America's elementary and secondary students-and only marginally more for college. Thus Riley can wield neither dollars nor brute power to get his way. Instead, he employs as his primary weapons his close relationship with the President and his longtime command of the subject matter. But perhaps most of all, Riley's success depends on his manner, which rests on a willingness to listen to-and thus to do business with-those who don't always share his policy views.
"I know, in practically every state, the key education people," Riley says, "Republicans and Democrats-and know 'em well. That all takes time. The key here is relationships. You don't have any more power after you've been here a while. You just don't. The statutory authority is the same. But you derive a degree of effectiveness from the relationships you build."
Those relationships have enabled Riley to encourage states to address the idea of setting standards for students at various grade levels. Even while only a handful of states have been willing to embrace Clinton's call for standardized national testing, every one of the 50 is currently engaged in codifying its own way of identifying educational successes-and Riley believes that the states eventually, inevitably, will have to embrace a uniform set of standards for measuring progress.
"He has extreme credibility because he's never backed away from hard-nosed efforts to improve schools, but he's also never scapegoated educators for political gain," says Andrew Rotherham, director of education projects for the Progressive Policy Institute, a reform-minded Democratic think tank. "He occupies some rarefied space: He's respected in schools across the country, but also in Washington."
Riley's most important ally is probably the President himself. In 1992, when Clinton proposed "100,000 new cops on the beat," this was a slogan in search of a policy-and one that Clinton left to the Justice Department to decipher after the election.
But that was not the case with Clinton's 1996 clarion call for policies that would ensure every American child was reading by the third grade. That policy was based on hard data supplied by the Education Department. The upshot was a $260 million grant program signed into law last October, with bipartisan support-the Reading Excellence Act of 1998. In its final form, the legislation was heavily shaped by House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman William F. Goodling, R-Pa., who frequently criticizes the administration, but worked closely with Riley. "You can agree with Dick Riley or disagree on policy, but you can't not like him," says Goodling's top aide on education, Victor F. Klatt III. "He's just a good guy."
Riley's influence also stems from his 20-year friendship with Clinton, dating back to their early days when both were Governors of small, Southern states and both were fixated on improving education for poor and minority students. "The one thing with this President is that he doesn't have a learning curve on education," Riley says.
To illustrate, Riley relates a wisecrack he made recently to his old Arkansas friend. "I give a talk on the state of American education each year, and I spend a lot of time on it," he says with a slight smile. "I told the President this year that in the last two State of the Unions, he's given my speech, and that if he did it one more time, I was going to give the State of the Union, and he could give the State of American Education speech."
Also representing the Southern style in the administration is Federal Emergency Management Agency head James Lee Witt, one of the few Arkansans who arrived with Bill Clinton in 1993 and is still around. Witt's success-and he may get the best press of anyone in the administration-comes from his willingness to get on an airplane at a moment's notice and convey sympathy for disaster victims, as well as his work in streamlining paperwork in an agency whose primary function is writing checks to Americans who have just lost everything.
Within days of the deadly tornadoes that struck Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas earlier this month, Witt urged residents of tornado-prone areas to construct "safe rooms" in their homes. "The deaths and devastation caused by the tornadoes . . . are heartbreaking," he said. "While we can't stop tornadoes, we can build secure, easily accessible rooms in homes that can keep families safe from harm." Witt drew attention to such a safe room, built in Del City, Okla., that apparently saved the lives of a homeowner and her daughter. And he noted that the room cost less than $4,000 to build.
"He's the first FEMA director who wanted to be FEMA director," Charles Harper, a Wichita Falls, Texas, expert on disaster recovery told The Daily Oklahoman, Oklahoma City's dominant newspaper. "It was a political parking place before he came in."
If there is one overarching theme that binds together these different approaches, it is that of autonomy. Clinton's most successful tenured Cabinet Secretaries get things done because they have learned how to do them, and they are left alone to do them. But nothing in life, or at least in Washington, always works as it is supposed to. Sometimes, top appointees misuse their ability to make policy on their own.
The Justice Department, for instance, recently employed guerrilla tactics in the appropriations process to divert $4.3 million out of its operating funds to finance a $5,000 per person settlement to Japanese nationals rounded up in Latin America during World War II. In so doing, political appointees in the Civil Rights Division managed to reverse Justice's previous legal position, override the stated intent of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, and ignore the clear legislative history of the 1988 Japanese-American reparations bill.
Such stealthy and high-handed actions strike many congressional leaders as nothing less than abuses of power. The critics have a point. Murkowski has added up all of the Interior Department's requests for appropriations to fund the Clinton administration's never-passed-into-law Lands Legacy Initiative; he came up with a figure of $417 million. "That kind of policy is not supposed to be decided at either the Department of Agriculture or Interior," he says. "That is an executive branch raid." Murkowski has began offering bills to prevent such strategies.
Last Friday, a federal appeals court issued a warning of another kind when it tossed out Browner's hard-won toughening of clean air standards. Judges Stephen F. Williams and Douglas H. Ginsburg, writing for a three-judge panel in Washington, said that EPA "construed [sections of] the Clean Air Act so loosely as to render them unconstitutional delegations of legislative power." The administration promises to appeal.
And autonomy doesn't work for everyone. Not everyone is Dick Riley, with his gracious, gentle touch. Some operate with sharp elbows. One of these is Housing Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo, who served as Henry Cisneros' deputy, took over HUD in 1996, and wants to reform the culture of his agency every bit as much as James Lee Witt did his. But Cuomo is a bullheaded New Yorker, younger and a little rougher around the edges, and when his inspector general expressed doubts about Cuomo's ambitious plans for reorganizing HUD, Cuomo launched a nasty little jihad against her. Cuomo may well have been right on the merits, and his IG, Susan Gaffney, may have been wrong. But the result was that Gaffney now feels so ill-used by the Secretary that she has publicly vowed to stay in her job as long as Cuomo is there. It is not a prescription for a smooth-running department.
At the Energy Department, the talents of Federico F. Pena, a popular former mayor of Denver, seemed unequal to the Herculean task of reining in an agency that has historically defied reform. And at Agriculture, nothing that Glickman can do could make him hugely popular with farmers, for the simple reason that crop prices-something he can hardly control-are distressingly low.
Experience did not save Clinton's foreign policy team, especially Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and National Security Adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, from approving a policy in Kosovo that miscalculated the response of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to a NATO air war. Moreover, they apparently had no backup plan in mind.
In some ways, however, the most notorious blunder of this administration remains the 1993 carnage wrought by federal agents at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. In a twist that might prove instructive for future Cabinet Secretaries, Attorney General Janet Reno actually solidified her reputation with the public by swiftly accepting the blame for what went wrong-and by publicly demonstrating her anguish over the results of her decisions.
Reno's learning curve on another visible issue has been easy to see-even if she won't talk about it. A fervent supporter of the independent-counsel law when she took the job in 1993, the Attorney General-along with nearly every other prominent Democrat in Washington-has in the ensuing years seen that earlier Republican complaints about the abuses of the statute had considerable merit. But because Reno had fearlessly appointed an independent counsel to look into the activities of the President-and expanded his role in the face of new allegations-she got criticism from only a handful of conservative Republicans when she declined to go that route on the Democrats' 1996 campaign finance abuses.
"It seems to me that it all depends on the category of the person," says Thomas E. Cronin, president of Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., and a scholar who has written about the executive branch. "If you have people of the high caliber of Babbitt and Rubin, or people like Riley who have the trust of the President, that's one thing. If you have weaker people, it's problematic. But overall, if you ask my opinion-does it help a President to have a group in the agencies who've stayed the course with him?-I'd have to say it's an asset-absolutely."
Perhaps the last word should go to Shalala, a Cabinet official who battled Clinton rigorously on one of his signature pieces of legislation, welfare reform, and who had the temerity to scold him about the Monica Lewinsky affair. Yet, she has stayed on-and stayed loyal.
"Even though I'm an academic who has studied how government works, I hadn't thought about this until I decided to stay for the second term," she says. "But the average stay [at HHS] before me was 18 months. And you just couldn't do things like pass welfare reform, monitor how it was being carried out in the states, and fix what wasn't working, in 18 months. . . . Look, you get credit in Washington for legislation. Everybody wants a bill-signing ceremony at the White House. But real change comes when you change the culture of a government agency, or the behavior of industry it regulates-or the attitude of the public-and all that takes time, time on the job."