As the inauguration of Barack Obama rolls closer, three former White House cabinet secretaries said at a forum Thursday in the Jack Morton Auditorium that compiling a group of people that get along with each other and can work successfully together is the most important task for the president-elect.
The panel discussion, which was moderated by GW professor and CNN contributor Frank Sesno, was the second part of professor Stephen Hess’ presidential transition series based on his new book, “What Do We Do Now? A Workbook for the President-Elect.”
“(Obama) has to have the people who have the know-how,” said Anne Veneman, former agriculture secretary to President George W. Bush. “He needs to look at diversity of the cabinet. The past two presidents have done well at this task. Finding people who are compatible and can work together is also important since so many issues need great attention.”
William Brock III, labor secretary to President Ronald Reagan, said picking a cabinet is “not so simple as it was during the campaigns.”
“Tempering your win with a sense of awe at the responsibility and putting together a team of people who are comfortable with each other is a great challenge,” Brock said.
Barbara Franklin, former commerce secretary to President George H. W. Bush, said the president-elect must find the right people to carry out the promises he made on the campaign trail.
“You have to think who would fit best into each department,” Franklin said. “You need some people with at least some understanding of the mission of a given department.”
She added, “There’s also a managerial piece. You’re managing tens of thousands of employees.”
Brock said CEOs do not necessarily make qualified cabinet members.
He added that Congress and the White House are much different than the business world. He said experience on Capitol Hill has more benefits for cabinet members.
Hess said diversity in the cabinet is also important.
“It’s increasingly important for the cabinet to look like America,” Hess said. “In the last two administrations, we saw the most diversity. It’s easy to fill jobs in the outer cabinet. The key jobs are in Treasury, Defense, State and Justice. You can add on to your cabinet and you can accomplish some of this diversity. (United Nations) ambassadors have appeared at the cabinet table many times.”
Graduate student Maria Florencia Filadoro said the event was extremely informative, but she was disappointed that the former secretaries did not list people who would be qualified for Obama’s cabinet.
“I enjoyed the event,” she said. “I would liked to have seen more discussion about specific names for potential selections for various secretaries.”