The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Election 2012

November 17, 2012

7 rules for wannabe Cabinet members

(Continued)

You'll need allies to achieve those goals; be prepared to provide the president with the names of three people you could hire who would be critical to helping you. The positions that really count are usually at the level of assistant secretaries or deputy assistant secretaries. You have more influence there.

At the beginning of his tenure in 1989, Energy Secretary James Watkins set a goal of cleaning up the nuclear waste accumulated from the Cold War production of atomic weapons — as well as the deficient nuclear-safety culture in the Energy Department that, in his view, helped create the problem. He secured from President George H.W. Bush a free hand to determine who would occupy the department's top nuclear-related positions. As a result, these jobs were filled with people who were competent, instead of merely politically connected. While Watkins certainly did not solve all of the department's nuclear problems in four years, he made a lasting impact because he had a team of experts focused on achieving his top goal.

3. Don't bash your predecessors.

It doesn't make you look any better, and it won't make them look any worse. You will be surprised to learn how many friends in Washington even the "worst" Cabinet officer has — all of whom now have a reason to want you to fail.

4. Find ways to interact with members of Congress on a personal level.

Even though the Senate is responsible for confirming your nomination, pay an early call on House leaders. And don't disappear after your confirmation — find ways to engage members of Congress both in Washington and on their home turf. Work to find common ground with the senior members of the appropriations subcommittees responsible for your agency.

While he wasn't a Cabinet secretary, one of the most proactive recent appointees was Arun Majumdar, the former head of the Energy Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. He found relevant ways to stay in contact with Democratic and Republican lawmakers. He kept them informed about what his program was doing, invited them to speak at major events he organized, and went to their states and districts to appear with them at their meetings.

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