- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 25, 2001

President Bush has formalized the lines of succession at several key federal agencies in case a Cabinet secretary is killed or incapacitated a housekeeping task with fresh meaning after September 11.
With no fanfare, Mr. Bush signed a series of executive orders in the past week that mandates a lengthy list of officials and the order in which they would take control of their Cabinet agencies.
The orders don't affect the succession for the presidency, officials said.
At the Treasury Department, one of the agencies' three undersecretaries would take control during any period in which the secretary and deputy secretary "have died, resigned or are otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office of Secretary," Mr. Bush's order says.
Which undersecretary first?
Mr. Bush's order even answers that: the one who took his or her oath of office first.
At other departments such Labor, and Housing and Urban Development, the agencies' chief lawyers the general counsel or solicitor general were put next in line after the secretary and deputy secretary.
Bush administration officials said the lines of succession were required by Congress when it passed the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 during the Clinton presidency.
No one got around to the job until after September 11.
"This is a housekeeping detail that sets up a line of succession within Cabinet agencies and has no impact on the presidential succession," Deputy White House Counsel Tim Flanigan said yesterday.
However, administration officials said the task takes on new significance in the aftermath of September 11 to ensure government business can continue even in the worst doomsday terrorism scenarios.
If a Cabinet secretary or deputy can't be located, is killed or is seriously wounded, there is an official ready to step in without any bureaucratic wrangling, officials said.
The orders also address what happens when a Cabinet secretary is out of town or must excuse himself or herself from a decision to avoid a conflict of interest, officials said.
Outside experts say a doomsday plan is perhaps more important now than during the Cold War and its threat of nuclear war because terrorist attacks are less predictable.
"There's a kind of predictability to conventional war, but with terrorism there is such an uncertainty about what might happen, who is being targeted, which government building might be struck and how," said Charles Jones, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin.
What's not uncertain is who succeeds a president.
Under current law, the president is succeeded by the vice president, followed by the House speaker and then the president pro tempore of the Senate.
The latter is a largely ceremonial office traditionally held by the oldest senator in the party that controls the Senate.
Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, questions whether that line of succession should be changed to ensure that a major catastrophe doesn't cause the White House to change parties. That can happen if the White House is controlled by one party and Congress by the other.
Mr. Sherman wants to let the president designate the House minority leader as next in line after the vice president if the president and speaker are from different parties.
Shirley Warshaw, a professor at Gettysburg College who wrote a book on power sharing between White Houses and their Cabinets, said traditionally the departments already had internal procedures on succession that Mr. Bush's orders simply formalize.
Mr. Bush signed executive orders Dec. 18 that set the succession lines at seven Cabinet agencies: Treasury, HUD, Commerce, Agriculture, Labor, Veterans Affairs and Interior.
The plans were published in the Federal Register before the long holiday weekend.
Other Cabinet agencies such as the Justice Department weren't addressed by Mr. Bush because they already had succession lines written into law, officials said.

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