[Mb-civic] Power Plays? Payback Time? Agencies Realign Their Stars - Washington Post
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Fri Mar 24 03:45:09 PST 2006
Power Plays? Payback Time? Agencies Realign Their Stars
Disaster Plans List Pecking Orders for Those Left Standing
By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 24, 2006; A17
If a terrorist attack wiped out the top layer of government, the law has
a plan for who would step in: Without the president or vice president, a
succession of congressional leaders and Cabinet secretaries stand in
line to assume control of the country.
But forget about the presidency. What about the National Archives? Who
would take charge of the nation's files in case of a catastrophe?
Fortunately, the White House has an answer. President Bush this week
endorsed a new order of succession for the National Archives and Records
Administration detailing down to the 10th level who would assume command
in a national emergency. If the top nine guys are gone, it turns out,
the director of the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum takes over. That's
right -- 25 years after leaving office, Carter, in the form of his top
librarian, would return to power, of a sort.
In a government fixated on doomsday scenarios, the White House memo
issued Wednesday was at least the fifth time since the start of last
year that an executive branch agency has created or revised an order of
succession. Many departments rushed to draft emergency plans in the
aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But nearly four
years later, government officials in agencies such as the budget and
personnel offices still busy themselves with the macabre exercise of
figuring out who would be on top should the worst happen.
"It's kind of a sign of the thinking of government that there are so
many high-level people at all these agencies that you need to have an
order of succession," said Paul C. Light, a government specialist at New
York University. "At the risk of being flip, the question would not be
'Who's in charge at these agencies?' but 'Who cares who's in charge at
these agencies?' "
Evidently people at the agencies. Some of the recent lineups reflect one
official moving up the chart at the expense of colleagues. Others seem
to be even more brazen power plays intended to put rivals in their
places. In case there are any doubts, the succession orders make plain
which associate director stands above which other associate director in
an agency pecking order.
All of this, of course, stems from the serious post-9/11 concern about
the government's ability to keep running after an attack using nuclear,
chemical or biological weapons. Long before 2001, a single member of the
Cabinet was kept away from the U.S. Capitol during the president's State
of the Union address to ensure that a senior executive would survive
should disaster strike. But Sept. 11 brought home how rudimentary plans
for continuity of government really were.
After the attacks, Bush activated a shadow government, dispatching about
100 senior civilian managers to live and work secretly in fortified
locations outside Washington on a 24-hour basis. Vice President Cheney
famously retreated to "undisclosed locations."
Congress, on the other hand, has debated and debated without coming up
with its own plan. The House passed a bill last year, just as it did the
year before, requiring states to hold elections within 49 days if 100 or
more of the 435 House seats are empty, only to have the idea languish in
the Senate, where critics favor immediate temporary appointments.
But at least the National Archives has a plan. Under this week's memo,
if the archivist and his deputy are unable to serve, power devolves to
the assistant archivist for administration, followed by the assistant
archivist for records services and then the assistant archivist for
regional records services and so on down the line.
"It's good to know they're taking care of this because, without a
Congress, they've got someone to chronicle the abuses of the martial-law
state," said Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), who has proposed a
constitutional amendment permitting governors to name interim House
members in case of mass casualties.
Baird laughed but then added that the archives plan makes sense: "One of
the best ways to deter terrorist attack is to be so protected in terms
of maintaining government continuity that you could say, 'Go ahead, take
your best shot.' What a powerful message it would be to be able to have
your government up and going within days."
Others said the White House has more important issues to tackle. "We
have huge problems with presidential succession," said Rep. Brad Sherman
(D-Calif.), "and knowing who is head of the archives is not my number
one concern." Sherman has proposed removing the House speaker and Senate
president pro tempore from the presidential succession because putting
either in the Oval Office could represent a radical departure from who
voters thought they were electing.
The new archives plan supersedes one issued in March 2002, and the main
effect seems to be demoting the assistant archivist for information
services from third in line of succession to seventh.
A memo issued for the Office of Personnel Management last year bumped
the agency's general counsel ahead of the chief of staff and the
communications director up to fourth in line from 10th. Now serving as
10th is the associate director for human capital leadership and merit
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld rewrote his succession plan in
December to put his inner circle closer to the top, placing
Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen A. Cambone right behind Deputy
Secretary Gordon R. England, and effectively demoting the secretaries of
the Army, Air Force and Navy.
The new national intelligence director, John D. Negroponte, has issued
his first succession chart.
In Atlanta, Jay Hakes, director of the Jimmy Carter library, said he
figured he was tapped to be part of the archives' succession because he
works outside Washington but in a city with a significant federal presence.
He said he has not been mapping out what he would do with his power
should the occasion arise. "I don't spend a lot of time thinking about
it," Hakes said. "But I think this is a case where being overprepared is
better than being underprepared."
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