Bush’s New Cabinet: More of the Same

President Bush’s second-term Cabinet will look roughly like his first – overwhelmingly male and mostly white, though Hispanics double their representation, to two.

There would also be two blacks and two Asian-Americans, but no Arab-American replacing Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, a Lebanese-American.

While Bush is fond of saying “all wisdom does not reside in Washington, D.C.,” he drew most of his new Cabinet choices from the capital’s corridors of power. All but two of his nine new picks already serve in the federal government.

Of the two outsiders, one was plucked from state government – Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns, Bush’s nominee for agriculture secretary.

Nine of Bush’s 15 Cabinet members resigned after he won re-election. His choices for replacements offer a glimpse of what he values in the men and women who sit with him periodically in the Cabinet Room.

The most conspicuous common thread is government experience. Just one of the nine newcomers Bush has nominated comes from corporate America – Kellogg Co. chief executive Carlos Gutierrez, Bush’s choice to run the Commerce Department.

Bush is following in the footsteps of his predecessors.

His father promised “new faces” would fill his Cabinet; President Clinton pledged a Cabinet that “looks like America.” Both ended up drawing heavily from Washington’s political establishment, while making sure minorities were represented.

“No matter what presidents say about a desire to have a Cabinet that looks like America, the best they can do is get a Cabinet that looks like Washington,” said Paul Light, a professor at New York University who runs the Presidential Appointee Initiative at the Brookings Institution.

Light has analyzed the backgrounds of the hundreds of personnel appointments each president must make. For Bush, about 60 percent have come from the Washington metropolitan area – a figure comparable to his immediate predecessors.

The trend has been accelerating over the past half-century, Light said. In Bush’s Cabinet, it is even more pronounced because he promoted three White House aides to top agency posts.

The Founding Fathers envisioned administrations populated by citizen-appointees who were “primarily not of Washington, but would come here for a little bit and just go home. And we ain’t got that,” Light said.

Some potential nominees are put off by the high cost of living and by other Washington problems such as traffic, Light said. Also, presidents are attracted to people who have already been through the appointment process – and most of them live in Washington.

Bush’s aborted nomination of Bernard Kerik as secretary of homeland security pointed up the dangers of tapping outsiders, Light said. Kerik’s withdrawal – amid questions about immigration problems with a family housekeeper – “reinforces the natural tendency of presidents who have already been through that unique hell called the presidential appointment process,” he said.

The tendency to pick Washington insiders comes at a cost, in Light’s view.

“It creates an inbreeding not healthy for fresh thinking on the policy issues we confront,” he said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush “nominates the best person for the job” while also striving for a diversity of backgrounds.

“The new Cabinet reflects the president’s governing style: The president surrounds himself with strong, results-oriented individuals,” McClellan said.

Demographically, the Cabinet shows diversity, although members who mirror Bush’s own background are overrepresented.

Eleven are male. Seven are white and male.

Bush is 58. His Cabinet’s average age is just over 57, with five members at or beyond retirement age.

Clinton had more blacks – four – in his first- and second-term Cabinets than does Bush. The president’s father picked one black for his Cabinet.

Clinton and the first President Bush each had two Hispanics in their Cabinets. By raising Hispanic representation to two, Bush matched them.

His choice of Gutierrez returned a Cuban-American to the Cabinet, following the departure last year of Housing Secretary Mel Martinez, now a senator from Florida. Cuban-Americans were a vital electoral bloc courted by Bush in last year’s campaign for Florida’s electoral votes.

© 2005 The Associated Press