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Cabinet: It's Results That Count

January 14, 2001

Without making a big thing about it, President-elect George W. Bush has put together the most diverse Cabinet in U.S. history. It includes four women, two African Americans, two Asian Americans and a Latino, with seven white males rounding out the contingent. Bush has thus made good on his campaign promise to reach out to all Americans, even while denying that race, ethnicity or gender affected his choices. His selections, he has indicated in every case, were based on merit. At this point it would be insulting to the nominees to derogate that claim.

Certainly there's reason to have high expectations of those who already have solid records in their fields. Colin L. Powell at the State Department, Donald H. Rumsfeld at Defense, Paul H. O'Neill at Treasury, Rod Paige at Education, Anthony J. Principi at Veterans Affairs, Ann M. Veneman at Agriculture, Tommy G. Thompson at Health and Human Services and Christine Todd Whitman at the Environmental Protection Agency and Robert B. Zoellick as U.S. trade representative--both of whom Bush has given Cabinet rank--bring demonstrated ability to their positions. Other satisfactory choices include Norman Y. Mineta, who will move from Commerce under President Clinton to Transportation under Bush and is the Cabinet's lone Democrat, Mel Martinez at Housing and Urban Development and Elaine Chao at Labor.

But other selections invite questions. Spencer Abraham, who was defeated in his Senate reelection bid in Michigan, is an odd choice to head the Energy Department, whose abolition he had previously demanded. Attorney-general nominee John Ashcroft, another defeated senator, and Gale A. Norton, picked as Interior secretary, face deservedly close scrutiny of their records.

The confirmation hearings may be contentious, but they will not be about race or origin. Of course what finally will count is how well the officials perform. Everything else--gender, race, ethnicity, what part of the country Cabinet members come from--fades when put next to on-the-job results.

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