Bush turns to old Washington hands to fill key posts

An analysis in National Journal 's new "Decision Makers" issue shows that President Bush seems to have forgotten some of his anti-Washington campaign rhetoric in filling the top jobs in his administration.

During the final month of his 2000 presidential campaign, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas ran hard as a Washington outsider. In speech after speech, he portrayed his opponent, Vice President Al Gore, as a creature of the nation's capital.

The day before the election, Bush drove home his case against Gore at a rally in the Vice President's home state of Tennessee: "He thinks the wisdom exists in Washington, D.C. He forgot his roots. He forgot where he's from."

And now that President Bush is the one forming a government, he seemingly has forgotten all about that anti-Washington rhetoric. As of June 14, more than half of the President's appointments and nominations to senior positions in the executive branch had gone to individuals whose previous job address was inside the Washington Beltway. Government is not the new administration's enemy, either. Only 14 percent of the Bush team can say that they've never before had their salaries paid by the taxpayers.

And almost one in five of Bush's decision makers have worked for a Washington lobbying firm, public relations company, or trade association. Arizona Sen. John McCain, Bush's chief rival for the GOP presidential nomination last year, might find that figure ironic. In the critical South Carolina primary, a Bush advertisement pilloried McCain for accepting contributions from Washington lobbyists.

The son of a President, George W. Bush has created a "son of" administration. According to a survey conducted by National Journal of 300 members of the new Bush team, fully 43 percent had worked under President George H.W. Bush. The senior staff meetings in some Cabinet departments must seem like family reunions. Six out of nine people that the new President Bush named to top posts at the Housing and Urban Development Department previously served Dad. Of the senior officials who have been nominated or are in place at the State Department, a whopping 81 percent--25 out of 31--are alumni of the first Bush administration.

It should be no surprise that the current Bush administration looks more like a restoration of the Republican government-in-waiting than a sagebrush rebellion. In the GOP nominating contest, Bush was, after all, the candidate of the party establishment.

In forming his government, George W. Bush simply does not have the long career in public service and extensive personal political networks that both his father and Bill Clinton were able to draw on. Also, Bush lacked a farm team: Texas's governor is a weak executive and doesn't have a strong cabinet system to tap for important assignments in Washington.

The new Republican President's personal imprint is much clearer on the White House staff than on the myriad departments and agencies he now oversees. In general, the closer people worked to Bush before he won the presidency, the closer they work to him today. Rather than scattering his top Texas aides throughout the government, the former governor has kept them closer at hand--in the West Wing.

Many of the President's critics and admirers think that while Bush has his father's genes, he's more of a kindred spirit to Ronald Reagan. Yet while the new President and Reagan were both governors of states that are culturally distant from Washington, Bush is hardly showing the outsider instincts that Reagan did in building a new government. Among Bush's 14 Cabinet heads, 10 have prior federal experience. Of the first 13 Cabinet Secretaries that Reagan nominated, only six had ever held a federal job.

A similar pattern holds for the lower rungs of the executive branch. In 1981, National Journal surveyed early Reagan administration officials. Out of 213 decision makers profiled that year, 57 percent had previous experience in the federal government. Among the Bush officials covered in this issue, 73 percent have worked before for Uncle Sam.

Despite his own experience in business, Bush is not as much of a fan of recruiting business executives as the Gipper was. Seven of Reagan's first Cabinet chiefs had spent most of their working lives in the corporate world. Bush can point to only one career businessman in his Cabinet--Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans. The other two CEOs in the Bush Cabinet, Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, got their start in business after, and some might say because, they had served in important posts in the Nixon and Ford administrations.

While the new President's government isn't one of Washington outsiders, as Reagan's was, it lacks the clubby feel that characterized his father's administration. President George W. Bush has only one real chum in his Cabinet: Commerce Secretary Evans, his longtime pal from Midland, Texas. Bush's father had three close friends in his Cabinet: James A. Baker III at State, Robert A. Mosbacher at Commerce, and Nicholas F. Brady at Treasury.

Even Reagan brought more old friends and allies into the Cabinet: His personal lawyer, William French, was Attorney General, and his former state finance director, Caspar W. Weinberger, was Defense Secretary. Pennsylvania Sen. Richard S. Schweiker, whom Reagan had wanted to be his running mate in 1976 had he captured the Republican presidential nomination, became his Health and Human Services Secretary. Reagan's campaign chairman, William J. Casey, became director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

In a couple of Cabinet departments where he wasn't so close to the principals, Reagan placed veterans of his state government as seconds in command. His former gubernatorial chief of staff, William P. Clark, was deputy secretary of State. And Richard E. Lyng, who had headed California's Agriculture Department, became deputy secretary of Agriculture. Bush, on the other hand, hasn't chosen anyone from Austin to fill the critical No. 2 job in any Cabinet department.

In this administration, it's the Vice President who has strong ties to Cabinet members. Dick Cheney is a protege of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, a relationship dating from their days in the Nixon and Ford administrations. As Ford's chief of staff, Cheney worked with Treasury Secretary O'Neill, then a senior official at the Office of Management and Budget. And when Cheney ran the Pentagon during the first Bush administration, he prosecuted the Gulf War with Colin L. Powell, now Secretary of State but then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

George W. Bush, however, certainly doesn't lack for trusted friends at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. More than 80 percent of the White House decision makers were either paid or volunteer workers during his presidential bid. In the rest of his administration, 34 percent of top officials pitched in on the campaign.

Yet, at the White House the percentage of key officials who served in Bush's father's administration is actually lower than it is elsewhere in the new government. Among White House aides, 38 percent are veterans of the elder Bush's administration. Among other executive branch picks, 44 percent worked in the previous Bush administration.

It's not unusual for a White House to be populated with ex-campaign staffers. Indeed, many on President Clinton's senior staff were veterans of his 1992 election campaign. But in Clinton's case, a number of these people were relatively new associates for him. Others had joined the Arkansan's team only for the general election or had worked at the Democratic National Committee. Some had not worked at the Clinton headquarters in Little Rock--Counselor David R. Gergen and National Economic Council Director Robert E. Rubin, for example. And a few, such as Counsel Bernard W. Nussbaum, were viewed primarily as loyalists to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In a sense, the Clinton White House staff was more of a coalition--with aides from all parts of the Democratic Party--than the Bush West Wing team, whose Texas cohesiveness is reminiscent of John F. Kennedy's "Massachusetts mafia" and Jimmy Carter's Georgia brigade. Two of President Bush's top advisers, Counselor Karen R. Hughes and Senior Adviser Karl Rove, not only were key players on Bush's 2000 campaign, they've been with him ever since he first ran for governor, in 1994. Likewise, White House personnel chief and prep-school friend Clay Johnson, Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, and Cabinet Secretary Albert Hawkins have been with Bush since he became governor. Staff Secretary Harriet Miers was his personal attorney in Texas. And Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. ran Bush's convention for him and handled debate negotiations and other key assignments in the run-up to the general election.

"Bush has tended to surround himself with people he's taken the measure of," Rove said. Because so many people on the Bush White House staff worked together either on the campaign or, even before that, in Austin, they've not only demonstrated their fidelity to Bush, they've operated as a team and formed bonds with each other, which may diminish the prospects for internecine warfare.

"One of the great things about this is the ability [that White House staffers have] to discuss, to talk about things and have the confidence that the likelihood of you reading about it on the front page of The Washington Post are relatively modest," Rove said.

Former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta (who didn't work on Clinton's campaign) sees trade-offs in Bush's staff structure. "A kind of Kennedy model means it's very high on loyalty and teamwork and generally will be more ideological in terms of positions because that's where they are all from," Panetta said. "The Clinton model tends to be less loyal, because people are more into their own issues. But it tends to be more dynamic in terms of dealing with solutions to problems, because it's more idea-oriented instead of ideologically oriented. It's a little more freewheeling, versus more loyal and disciplined but not as imaginative."

Constructing a Government

In building the new administration, personnel chief Clay Johnson and his staff usually meet once a week with the President for 30 minutes to an hour. The night before the meeting, Bush is given a briefing book describing the job candidates whom the personnel office wants him to approve. "He [has] read that beforehand, reviewed it, sometimes extensively, sometimes very preliminarily," Johnson said.

In the meeting, whichever associate personnel director is responsible for a particular candidate will orally brief Bush on the individual. The President reviews and approves all of the nominations that require Senate confirmation. "He's always understood that the person wouldn't be here if the Cabinet Secretary wasn't supportive," Johnson said.

Johnson's office is in "constant dialogue" with the Cabinet Secretaries on personnel matters, he said. Johnson added that in every case when a name has been submitted to the President, the Secretary or someone in his department will have interviewed the prospective candidate, as will have someone in Johnson's shop.

Once Bush approves a selection, Johnson and his staff notify the individual and send him or her the necessary paperwork to begin the clearance process. After Johnson's office gets the forms back, it reviews them and someone from the office again interviews the prospective presidential nominee--a process that generally takes two to three weeks. If Johnson and his team are comfortable with the preliminary information, they announce the President's intention to nominate the individual. The clearance process generally takes another four to five weeks. If everything goes well, the White House formally sends the nomination to the Senate.

Usually, the day before Johnson and his staff meet with the President, Johnson reviews the proposed nominations with White House Chief of Staff Card. If Card has any concerns, Johnson won't include that candidate's name in the President's briefing book.

Johnson's office is in regular contact with the White House Office of Political Affairs through its deputy director, Matt Schlapp. A Political Affairs representative sits in on weekly meetings with Johnson's staff, vets the names of proposed candidates, and reports back to Presidential Personnel before they are submitted to the President. If Political Affairs objects and the personnel office concurs, then the candidate is dropped.

But if Johnson thinks that a candidate's other qualifications should outweigh the political concerns, then the tie-breaking vote is cast by Chief of Staff Card. Johnson and Rove, to whom Political Affairs reports, will discuss that matter with Card. And Card decides whether the name advances to the President. Even if Card decides in favor of moving the nomination forward, Bush will be made aware of the political objections that were raised.

According to Johnson, there have been only a handful of such disputes. "Where it's real borderline, merit generally trumps politics," Johnson said. "Normally, if it's a political problem, it's a real political problem."

Rove's shop is not the only White House office that is consulted on nominations. White House Counselor Karen Hughes, who oversees communications, signs off on "all the public affairs people" before they are nominated by the President, Johnson said. White House Director of Legislative Affairs Nicholas E. Calio does the same for all the sub-Cabinet lobbyists, and White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales does it for all the Cabinet and agency general counsels, "because they are their lieutenants in the field," Johnson explained.

The other key player in the White House on personnel matters is Vice President Cheney, who sits in on the weekly meeting that Johnson and his staff have with the President. He also receives the President's briefing book ahead of time so that he can review it. Johnson said that if he thinks that the President might ask Cheney about a specific nominee in the meeting--usually because the job is in the national security area--Johnson will try to review it with Cheney beforehand, to get "his agreement that this made good sense, and he could support that recommendation to the President.... Sometimes the President will say: 'He was involved in my father's administration. Do you know him, Dick?' Or, 'Do do you know her, Dick?' And sometimes [Cheney] does, and sometimes he doesn't."

When Johnson's office began the task of hiring people for the government, it was advised by Chief of Staff Card to try to get legislative affairs aides, public affairs aides, and general counsels in place as soon as possible. Another key priority was finding the deputy secretaries for the various departments. Filling jobs in areas that were high on the President's policy agenda has also been emphasized. "It's a kind of floating deal," Johnson said. "It's a combination of what we consider the priorities to be and [what] the Cabinet Secretary considers the priority to be."

One thing Bush and his aides have called important in personnel selection is diversity. Although he has appointed a slightly higher percentage of racial minorities than his father did, Bush appears to be lagging behind the percentage Clinton appointed.

Overall, National Journal found that 26 percent of Bush's appointees are women, a percentage that is higher than what his father achieved in the early days of his administration. According to a June 1989 tally by the White House, only 19 percent of George H.W. Bush's appointees were women. But from the first Bush administration to the current one, the increase in the number of minorities serving in top government positions has been less sharp. So far, minorities make up some 20 percent of George W.'s decision makers, compared with 17 percent in his father's administration. In the Clinton White House, as of June 5, 1993, Personnel Director Bruce R. Lindsey reported that women accounted for 34 percent and minorities for 25 percent of the 236 people named to Senate-confirmed posts in the Cabinet departments.

In terms of White House staff, however, Bush holds a slight edge in diversity. Bush has five top staffers who are either black or Hispanic; Clinton had three. In the first year of both the Bush and Clinton administrations, seven top staffers were female.

During the 2000 campaign, Bush made a determined effort to identify with America's fastest-growing ethnic group--now 13 percent of the population--whether it was by reminding audiences that he has a Latina sister-in-law or by tossing off a few Spanish phrases on the stump. But so far, only 6 percent of his appointments and nominations have gone to Hispanics. That figure almost mirrors the percentage of Bush voters who said they were Latino: 5 percent, according to the Voter News Service exit poll.

Yet Hispanics haven't been simply slotted into token posts. In addition to Gonzales, Mel Martinez is Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Ruben Barrales is deputy assistant to the President and director of intergovernmental affairs, Jimmy Gurule is an undersecretary of Treasury, and seven other Hispanics hold assistant secretary posts in Cabinet departments.

White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, who oversees the selection of federal judges for the President and has been one of his senior advisers since 1995, maintains that Bush is sincere in his desire to assimilate minorities into his administration. "He and I have had several conversations in terms of him asking me, 'How are we doing in terms of the diversity?' " Gonzales said. "He thinks it's important that all branches of government are integrated with people of color."

Blacks, one of the constituency groups most hostile to Bush, fared better than Hispanics in the administration's initial hiring: 10 percent of the top assignments Bush has made have gone to blacks. According to the VNS exit poll, only 2 percent of the voters who cast ballots for Bush last November were black.

Catholics were a major target group for Bush in the campaign, and they fare well in terms of administration jobs. Among those who disclosed their religious affiliation to National Journal, 34 percent of Bush's appointees are Catholic, compared with 55 percent who are Protestant. In the election, roughly 26 percent of Bush's voters were Catholic and 66 percent were Protestant.

Johnson said that while his office does "keep track" of the diversity of presidential nominees, it does not have any "quotas." Johnson said that nominations so far are "trending" about 45 percent non-white males, about 25 percent members of a minority group, and about 25 percent to 30 percent female--roughly what Bush's record was in Texas.

Doing things in Washington the way he did them in Austin seems to be a trademark of this President.