Presidential Inauguration

Department of Treasury, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Commerce
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, left, Vice President Joe Biden, right.

Obama’s Cabinet: Treasury, Education, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development and Commerce

January 20, 2009
by Christopher Coats
Inviting counsel from his home state and beyond, Barack Obama has nominated a number of Cabinet members with little or no experience in Washington, D.C. This is part two of a three-part series about the new president’s Cabinet.

Department of Treasury: Tim Geithner

An initially popular pick to lead President Obama’s economic team in a time of great pressure, Tim Geithner emerged as one of the few nominees to garner any controversy at all.

One of the first Cabinet nominees announced, the New York Federal Reserve Bank president has been noted for his similarities to the new president, including his age and an early life spent studying and living abroad.

Boasting firsthand experience with Wall Street and all the challenges it has faced in the last year, the Dartmouth graduate was greeted with a surge in excitement in the financial world; stocks rose upon his announcement.

However, it was soon revealed that Geithner had failed to pay income taxes when he worked for the International Monetary Fund from 2001 until 2003, causing Congressional Republicans to demand a delay in his confirmation.

After Geithner’s confirmation hearing resumed on January 21, debate returned to the nominee's tax issues. A vote was eventually cast and he was confirmed as Secretary of the Treasury with a vote of 60–34; three Democrats voted against him.

Department of Education: Arne Duncan

Arne Duncan held the role of Chicago’s superintendent of schools and comes from a family of educators. The Harvard graduate and former overseas professional basketball player grew up as a friend of Obama in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley chose Duncan to lead his school district in 2001. He quickly gained a reputation as someone who wasn’t afraid to ruffle feathers or try unconventional methods to keep attendance up, including offering students tickets to sporting events to show up and paying them for good grades. His efforts appeared to have paid off: Time magazine reports that in 2000, 76 percent of Chicago public school students appeared in class on the first day of the year; by 2003, the rate was 89 percent.

Duncan is one of two Illinois politicians to be nominated, joining Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in the White House.

During his confirmation hearing, Duncan mainly discussed elementary and secondary education; he offered few specifics about higher education but did pledge to increase Pell Grants. Duncan was unanimously confirmed as Education Secretary with a Senate voice vote just four hours after President Obama was sworn in.

Department of Homeland Security: Janet Napolitano

An Obama supporter from the early days of his presidential campaign, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, 50, was the only elected official chosen for Obama’s transitional team.

Napolitano, who was born in New York City but grew up in Albuquerque, N.M., attended Santa Clara University and the University of Virginia Law School. She moved to Arizona in 1983. She was the first woman to hold the jobs of U.S. attorney and state attorney general in Arizona.

Napolitano spoke at the Democratic National Convention in both 2004 and 2008. She “was the first governor to call for National Guard troops to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, and in 2006 she became the first female governor to chair the National Governors Association,” according to the Post. Napolitano jumped into the public spotlight in 1991 when she represented Anita Hill, who was charging the then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas with sexual harassment.

Napolitano was unanimously confirmed as Secretary of Homeland Security in a unanimous Senate voice vote just hours after President Obama was sworn in. Along with her many other firsts, she is the first woman to head the six-year-old agency.

Department of Housing and Urban Development: Shaun Donovan

After years as a scholar and staunch advocate of preserving affordable housing, Shaun Donovan was selected to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Donovan, who holds degrees in Public Administration and Architecture from Harvard, has acted as commissioner of New York City’s Housing Preservation and Development Department since 2004.

This will not be the first time Donovan has worked in the department he will now head; he served as the deputy assistant secretary for multifamily housing under the Clinton Administration.

Donovan faced little resistance during his confirmation hearing; most questions focused on the secretary-designee’s plans for dealing with the current mortgage crisis. He was eventually confirmed as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development with a unanimous vote on Thursday, January 22.

Department of Commerce

Bill Richardson, New Mexico governor and former contender for the Democratic ticket in 2008, was the original nominee to fill the vacancy at the Department of Commerce. However, he removed himself from consideration because of a grand jury investigation of possible misdeeds on the part of his office.

Allegations were lodged against Richardson’s office, suggesting that a New Mexico campaign donor had received preferential treatment when seeking a state contract. Reports of the FBI’s investigation of the matter surfaced last August; it is unclear why Richardson decided to step aside in early January.

In his place, President Obama nominated New Hampshite Senator Judd Gregg to fill the vacancy. Gregg is a moderate Republican, and his selection raised concerns among the GOP that his exit might free up the state's Democratic Governor John Lynch to appoint a member of his own party as a replacement.

However, citing “irresolvable conflicts,” including his opposition to the President's stimulus package and the White House's plans to remove the U.S. Census from the jurisdiction of the Department of Commerce, Gregg withdrew his nomination, once again leaving a departmental vacancy.

On February 25, President Obama announced his third choice for Commerce Secretary: former Washington State governor Gary Locke. The two-term governor was the first Chinese-American governor in U.S. history and the first Asian-American governor on the mainland. He is currently a partner at the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, with a focus on trade with China.

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