November 15, 2012
Brian Fung of The Atlantic writes that Michael Morell, the CIA's deputy director, is emerging as the "leading candidate" to replace David Petraeus, who resigned late last week amidst a burgeoning sex scandal.
It strikes me that this would be a very smart move. An experienced career leader is exactly what the CIA needs at this point. When put in charge, such executives typically immediately win the support of the career staff at an agency -- an especially valuable commodity at a time of turmoil. Generally, people who have devoted their careers to public service really know what they're doing. They also tend to be the kind of people who don't draw attention to themselves for the wrong reasons -- or even the right ones. As a result, they tend to keep their agencies out of the spotlight -- something the CIA could really use right now.
President Obama is in a good position to make a move to elevate Morell. In second terms, presidents have more leeway to promote experienced people to head agencies. The need for doling out favors, appeasing interest groups and winning support from members of Congress is lessened, and presidents are freer to focus on demonstrated leadership capability and competence as they seek to firm up their legacies.
Still, it would be highly unusual to promote a career executive to run one of government's most prominent agencies. Ordinarily, the most a career official can hope for is to win an appointment to serve as the acting head of an agency or department -- as Morell now has done twice at the CIA.
There are, of course, some exceptions. Lawrence Eagleburger became the only career foreign service officer to serve as Secretary of State when he got the top job at the end of the George H.W. Bush administration. Now seems like a very good time to make another exception.
November 15, 2012