Agency heads get guidance on top hires

Secretaries must get candidates pre-approved or choose someone from White House list.

Obama transition officials are making it clear to incoming Cabinet secretaries and agency heads that they'll be handed a slate of perhaps five or six pre-screened candidates for the top jobs in their departments and encouraged to interview and hire from among those candidates.

If the secretaries want to reach outside those lists to make their own hires, they will be required to justify their picks to the president-elect's top advisers, some of whom are headed for the offices of the White House Counsel and White House personnel.

The West Wing's control over the top slots in each department is similar to the practices of Barack Obama's predecessors, Presidents Bush and Clinton, but with a twist.

The secretaries are being told that the ethnic and racial makeup of the senior officials in their departments should reflect diversity to the extent possible. Apparently, the new White House will be keeping track, according to sources close to the transition.

Outside observers have said they're puzzled, however, that Hillary Rodham Clinton -- known for having female-dominated staffs while first lady, New York senator and presidential contender -- had by early this week tapped eight white men and one woman to help her at the State Department, if she's confirmed as secretary. Although Clinton supposedly cut a deal with Obama to be able to hire her own team, some observers are dubious. Two sources report there's already been some friction between Clinton and deputy-designate James Steinberg, suggesting that she accepted her deputy more than selected him.

Check out the blog Lost in Transition, a joint effort of Government Executive and National Journal.