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Bush Cabinet Overhaul Nearly Complete


President Bush has nearly completed his cabinet overhaul in advance of his inauguration for a second term in the White House on January 20.

Nine of the 15 cabinet secretaries from Mr. Bush's first term are departing, including Secretary of State Colin Powell and Health and Human Services chief Tommy Thompson, who recently indicated his desire to return to private life.

"It has been really my honor to serve President Bush as a member of his cabinet. I thank him for the opportunity," he said. "And it has been a privilege to serve the American people."

Among the new members of the incoming cabinet who must be confirmed by the Senate is Jim Nicholson, the president's choice to head the government agency responsible for caring for America's military veterans. "If confirmed by the Senate, it would be a singular honor to serve in your cabinet as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs," he said.

Perhaps the most significant departure is that of Secretary of State Powell. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice has been designated as his successor.

Among the six staying in the Bush cabinet are Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Treasury Secretary John Snow.

President Bush believes the revamped cabinet will be an asset as he presses ahead with an ambitious second term domestic agenda that includes changes in the tax system and reforming the Social Security government pension program.

"I feel it is necessary to move an agenda that I told the American people I would move," he said. "You go out and you make your case and you tell the people this is what I intend to do and after hundreds of speeches and three debates and interviews and the whole process where you keep saying the same thing over and over again, that when you win there is a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view and that is what I intend to tell the Congress."

To be sure, some turnover in the cabinet was expected. The job of a cabinet secretary is one of the most demanding in Washington and George Mason University political expert Jeremy Mayer says not everyone wants to continue a grueling pace for another four years. "Every cabinet member, whether the president is Bush or Clinton, faces a 24 (hour) seven (day) 365 days a year job," he said. "It is endless and all-consuming and so the fact that Bush has had this level of turnover so far is not indicative of an unusually high level of burnout."

Some observers have been surprised by the extent of the cabinet changes. Fred Barnes is editor of the conservative magazine, "The Weekly Standard."

He says the cabinet changes will allow the White House to have more direct influence in the various government departments. "Well, I think there are more changes than I really expected and he does want to have firm control over his entire administration. That is obviously one of the reasons why he sent White House aides out to the State Department, the Justice Department. And I think you are going to see much firmer control of the administration than you did in the first term," he said.

But greater control for the White House could also mean more problems for cabinet secretaries with members of Congress who are responsible for monitoring the various government departments.

Once again, George Mason University's Jeremy Mayer. "They will be more directly controlled by the White House, which may prevent them from making inroads with Congress. I do not think you are going to see that grand bipartisanship that the president promised in his acceptance speech. I think there are going to be real hard battles with the Democrats, the few remaining Democrats in Congress," he said.

White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales has been nominated to succeed Attorney General John Ashcroft, one of the more controversial cabinet members in the president's first term.

Mr. Gonzales is one of several White House officials who will be taking over cabinet departments, which many analysts believe could bring greater cohesion to the Bush team as it prepares for a second term.

John Fortier who monitors U.S. politics at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. He spoke to VOA TV. "People who were very close to the policy making in the first term, very close to the President who have the ear of the President means that there is more of a chance for initiatives to get done in these departments," he said. "So, I think it is a good development. Someone coming form the outside would hard be pressed to push the Bush agenda as much as these Bush insiders."

As far as cabinet shakeups go in recent history, the Bush reorganization is fairly extensive. Former President Richard Nixon also had nine cabinet seats change hands for his second term, while former Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan replaced seven cabinet secretaries each. In contrast, former Presidents Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson only made four cabinet changes each in their second terms.