Three of Barack Obama’s nominations for key government positions have withdrawn from the running on a single day in another blow to his faltering attempts to fill his administration.
They are the latest in a string a appointments to back out of senior jobs since he came to power just six weeks ago.
The nominee for deputy in the United States Treasury Department withdrew herself from consideration after weeks of intensive vetting
Annette Nazareth, a former senior staffer and commissioner with the Securities and Exchange Commission, was said to have made “a personal decision” to pull out.
She had faced criticism for her SEC role in creating what Mr Obama himself has lambasted as lax oversight of the banking industry and her confirmation hearing threatened to be contentious.
The gap leave Timothy Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary, battling the worst economist crisis since the Great Depression with none of his 17 deputies even named. Each one has to be confirmed by the US Senate, a process that usually takes weeks.
Paul Volcker, an Obama economic adviser and former Federal Reserve chairman, called the situation at the Treasury “shameful” last week. Mr Geithner has a 50-person “shadow cabinet” of intended appointees but they have no authority to take any decisions.
The staffing vacuum has contributed to the shaky start made by Mr Geithner, who made an uncertain first public appearance and whose bank rescue lacked the specifics Mr Obama had promised.
Mr Obama also suffered another setback when Dr Sanjay Gupta, the high-profile CNN medical correspondent who had agreed in principle to become Surgeon General, took himself out of the running, saying: “It really came down to a sense of timing more than anything else. You know, I have two daughters. Our third daughter is now imminent.”
Others suggested that Dr Gupta had been dismayed when Tom Daschle’s bid to become Health Secretary and health care reform tsar was derailed over his failure to pay $128,000 in taxes on a chauffeur and limousine. After this, the health job was split in two, a move that would have left Dr Gupta with two bosses.
The US Treasury denies there is any appointments problem. “In just weeks since taking office and inheriting the worst economic crisis in generations, we have taken an unprecedented level of action to strengthen our economy – from passing a recovery bill to crafting a framework for financial stability to implementing a plan to keep millions of Americans in their homes,” it said in a statement.
But at a Senate hearing on Thursday about the failed insurance giant American International Group, which has been given federal bail-out funds totalling more than $170 billion, Senator Chris Dodd said the Treasury department had told him no one was available to testify.
“I am not pleased that we don’t have someone here from Treasury to explain what their role in this is.” Caroline Atkinson, Mr Geithner’s choice for undersecretary of international affairs, Caroline Atkinson, also withdrew herself from consideration.
After a transition period that was hailed as one of the smoothest and best organised in the past two decades, Mr Obama has struggled to fill key posts amid signs of chaotic decision making and inadequate vetting.
He has lost two Commerce Secretary nominees – Governor Bill Richardson, who became embroiled in a corruption scandal and Senator Judd Gregg, a Republican who turned against Mr Obama’s spending plans.
Nancy Killefer, chosen to be “chief performance officer”, pulled out over unpaid taxes while General Anthony Zinni was told he would be ambassador to Baghdad only to learn that a diplomat had been appointed to fill the slot but no one had bothered to tell him.
According to the White House Transition Project, which tracks appointments, there are some 1,200 government jobs that require Senate confirmation about 360 of which are considered policy jobs. Only about 70 of those jobs have been filled so far.
By Toby Harnden in Washington
Last Updated: 11:59PM GMT 06 Mar 2009
Source: The Telegraph