The White House announced three very interesting personnel changes this week and last:
1) Judge Alberto Gonzales to move from White House Counsel to Attorney General
2) Dr. Condoleeza Rice to move from National Security Advisor to Secretary of State
3) Margaret Spellings to move from the Domestic Policy Council to Secretary of Education
All three are movements of people formerly in the White House to head Cabinet departments. Is this a good thing?
Maybe. I don't know enough about any of the three to comment on their particular qualifications for the jobs. But one of the criticisms of this White House is how tightly the policy process is controlled by the White House. The policy experience and analytical talent of the career staff in the Cabinet departments is probably underutilized. Putting people with close ties to the President at the head of those departments does suggest that the experience and talent that reside in these departments will be better integrated into the policy process. That could make for better policy.
Or, maybe not. Cabinet appointments are an opportunity to invite established people with different points of view into the President's inner circle. They should be people who have had management experience at the top of a large organization in the past. Governors often make for good appointments, as do CEOs. The current administration has not been successful in these types of appointees. Tommy Thompson at HHS has been central to some policies, like adding prescription drug benefits to Medicare, but that was a policy with some terrible consequences (a new underfunded entitlement program). Christine Todd Whitman at EPA and Paul O'Neill at Treasury had rocky tenures and seem to have made little impact. The three new appointments suggest no progress toward this ideal.
Agriculture, Commerce, and Energy are also awaiting new Cabinet Secretaries. It will be interesting to see how those positions are filled.