- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Last week, President Bush said he would start thinking about Cabinet and staff changes over the weekend. The decisions he makes in this area will be our first real indication of what his second term will be like.

Even if Mr. Bush doesn’t actually fire anyone, there inevitably will be many staff changes. An unusually large number of people have been with him throughout his entire term and many go back years earlier to his campaign. No doubt, a considerable number are burned out and need to move on to the private sector where they can make more money and see their families more often.

This natural turnover will probably give Mr. Bush all the opportunity he will need to reshape his administration without firing anyone, although that cannot be ruled out. Sometimes a high-level staff change is needed just to shake things up and not because someone did a poor job. Or the president may have someone specific in mind he wants in his Cabinet and who insists on a particular position that is already filled.

This is not to say we can expect wholesale turnover. Many people now in the administration may remain, but in different positions. In some cases, this will just be a reward for those who have done the heavy lifting — perhaps in ways not altogether visible on the outside. In other cases, the president may feel he needs someone particularly trustworthy in a key position to handle a high-priority matter.

Having said that, following are some thoughts on likely staff changes in the second Bush administration and a few suggestions.

Mr. Bush has said his two highest domestic priorities are tax reform and Social Security reform. Unfortunately, he has said very little about what he means in these areas. Consequently, someone will have to draft a specific proposal — or at least detailed guidelines — before action in Congress can proceed.

Treasury Secretary John Snow, who is expected to stay, is the obvious person to manage tax reform. I worked with him on the Kemp Commission some years ago and am confident he understands the issue and knows what needs to be done. Moreover, the Treasury staff is well versed on tax options and has the expertise and depth to manage what can often be a complicated and drawn-out process.

Social Security is another matter. My guess is the White House staff will handle this, as it did the Medicare drug bill. But since no one in the White House is really an expert on Social Security privatization, I would expect Mr. Bush to reach out for someone who is — if he is serious about making progress in this area.

There are two key positions where Mr. Bush may soon have the opportunity to appoint a Social Security expert. It is generally thought Council of Economic Advisers Chairman N. Gregory Mankiw and National Economic Council Director Stephen Friedman will soon return to the private sector. There are any number of economists and financial experts who could fill these positions and are familiar with Social Security reform options.

On both tax reform and Social Security, the budgetary implications of whatever is done will be central, especially since Mr. Bush has also promised to address the budget deficit.

Consequently, the director of the Office and Management and Budget will be a key player. OMB is headed by Josh Bolten, a top Bush loyalist, but he may move up to a higher position — perhaps White House chief of staff — thus opening this position for another appointment.

Of course, many other Cabinet and senior White House staff positions are likely to change. Mr. Bush has suggested he may reach out to a Democrat or two to join his Cabinet. Two obvious names are retiring Sens. Zell Miller of Georgia and John Breaux of Louisiana ,if they wish to continue in public service.

Looking down the road, Mr. Bush must also think about who he wants to replace Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who is expected to retire, and World Bank President James Wolfensohn, whose term expires. Former Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Martin Feldstein is often mentioned for the former position and Secretary of State Colin Powell is often mentioned for the latter.

Whatever Mr. Bush decides on the personnel front will be revealing, telling us more about his priorities than one can get out of press conference statements. If he is fortunate, he will find the right people to aid him.

Bruce Bartlett is senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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