Archive for Thursday, August 23, 2001

Kinship counts for jobs in Bush administration

August 23, 2001


— In Washington, it's not just who you know, but who's your dad.

Among the tens of thousands of names in the mix for presidentially appointed jobs, some have stood out: A Rehnquist. A junior Strom Thurmond. A Scalia. A Powell.

A cousin from President Bush's family. The vice president's son-in-law.

And more close relatives of prominent Republicans or the otherwise well-connected.

Going over the list, an expert in presidential appointments observes that most of the kin are qualified in their own right. But the mere fact of being related surely helped some get noticed in the first place.

"The whole game in Washington," says Paul Light of the Brookings Institution, "is how do you get your name in play?" A famous name is one way.

Sen. Strom Thurmond put J. Strom Thurmond Jr.'s name in play for U.S. attorney for South Carolina. Bush obliged with a nomination, and the 98-year-old senator's 28-year-old son is expected to be confirmed despite his striking inexperience and by the standards of his peers his tender years.

"Has my father helped me get this far in this process?" asked the younger Thurmond. "Of course he has. But he can't do the job for me."

The younger Thurmond has prosecuted seven cases on his own in his two years as an assistant state's attorney in Aiken County.

"That's a really itty bit of experience," said Mary Cheh, a law professor at George Washington University.

Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., meanwhile, is promoting his son David's nomination for a lifetime job as a federal judge. He is also expected to be confirmed, despite falling a little short of the experience recommended by the American Bar Assn.

Inside the Beltway

In senior levels of the Washington-based bureaucracy, family ties are a persistent undercurrent but by no means the strongest one.

A much larger phenomenon has been the growth of a Washington political class whose members are either working in government or ready to come on board when the White House changes hands.

Despite Bush's tendency to disparage the ways of the nation's capital, by Brookings' count, 55 percent of his appointees lived inside the Washington Beltway when he selected them. Other recent presidents have also depended heavily on the Washington circle.

"The best experience, to become a presidential appointee, is to have been a presidential appointee in a previous administration," Light said.

So it may be no surprise that younger generations in some families long known to Washington are rising in government.

Here, Bush, himself the son of a president, has picked:

l Janet Rehnquist, daughter of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, to be inspector general at the Health and Human Services Department. She's an assistant U.S. attorney who was an associate White House counsel for Bush's father.

l Eugene Scalia, son of Justice Antonin Scalia, to be the Labor department's top lawyer. He's a leading Washington labor attorney who faces Democratic resistance because of some of his views.

l Michael Powell, son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, as Federal Communications Commission chairman. A former antitrust lawyer in the Justice Department, he was nominated as a commission member by President Clinton.

"These are folks who likely would have been considered for something sooner or later," Light said, no matter what their names are.

But with 50,000 to 70,000 resumes vying for roughly 3,000 Bush appointments, kinship counts, too.

Washington tradition

It always has. President Kennedy named brother Robert attorney general and brother-in-law Sargent Shriver director of the Peace Corps. Dozens of families have had at least two generations of diplomats.

Not long before his death, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall asked that his son John be considered as a U.S. marshal. Clinton saw to it, later promoting him to head of the Marshals Service, and also hired John's brother, Thurgood Marshall Jr., as an aide.

When Bush took office, Philip J. Perry, Vice President Dick Cheney's son-in-law, was placed at the Justice Department. Perry has been elevated to acting associate attorney general, the department's No. 3 job, until another candidate is confirmed.

As the younger Thurmond once put it: "Any political appointment is some combination of opportunity and merit."

His dad says it's only nepotism when you hire your family, not when you recommend them.

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