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Why Clinton's Cabinet Eyes Exit Signs

Departure of budget chief may signal an exodus of top officials from administration.

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Right about now in any two-term presidency, the early enthusiasm of senior staff and Cabinet officials begins giving way to something like the distance runner's stare.

The fatigue factor in the current administration - said to be more acute than in previous administrations because of the continual investigations into alleged wrongdoing and President Clinton's tireless pace - is creating oddly timed resignations and shifts in personnel.

The Clinton administration's high-profile turnovers include the April 14 announcement of Franklin Raines. The head of the Office of Management and Budget will step down in May to take the helm of the Fannie Mae mortgage finance corporation. Energy Secretary Federico Pea also announced his resignation this month. It is rumored that the list of other experienced officials edging toward the exits is growing.

Such officials usually time their departures nearer the second inauguration, or after the November midterm elections, to avoid undermining the administrations they serve. But the healthy economy is presenting an unusual window of opportunity. Before Mr. Clinton's influence and popularity decays - as tends to happen in during a second term - several more officials are likely to leave.

"Historians will tell you the end of any second term is not the highest point to leave, and things tend to catch up with any president," says James Rosebush, deputy assistant to President Reagan from 1981 through 1986. "You have people looking to their future, leaving while the administration is still hot, getting more from their name value," he says.

Mr. Raines, a key Cabinet official, moves into a quasi-private-sector post that pays substantially more than his current job. Raines's predecessor at Fannie Mae, the congressionally chartered organization that provides billions of dollars in capital to mortgage companies, earned $7 million in income last year.

"The budget is in excellent shape, the economy is good. Leave while you are ahead. [Raines] has nothing to lose," explains Ryan Barilleaux, author of "The Post Modern Presidency."

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