Obama Taps Techies to Scour Bureaucracy

President-elect Barack Obama’s review of the vast federal bureaucracy will be led by past aides to former Vice President Al Gore and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).

But it will also include lots of former Clintonites, a half dozen techies, one adviser with a serious grounding in national security, a handful people likely to please the labor, environmental and women’s movements – and a few who test Obama’s newly unveiled ban on lobbyists.

Obama’s transition office announced on Wednesday that the three co-chairs overseeing its review of all federal agencies will be former Kennedy counsel Melody Barnes and ex-Gore aides Lisa Brown and Don Gips.

Gips, who is on leave from the Internet firm Level 3 Communications and previously worked for the Federal Communications Commission, is said to be under consideration to be chairman of that agency. He’s one of six freshly tapped Obama advisers with ties to the high-tech communications world, which Obama appears to be embracing more than President Bush.

In all, Obama announced 20 additions to his broad transition team that will help him make policy, budgetary and personnel decisions ahead of his Jan. 20 inauguration.

Six will dive into the inner workings of the departments of State, Defense and Treasury, while the remainder will serve on a working group headed by Barnes, Brown and Gips, tasked with analyzing and connecting the work of those scouring all the agencies across the government.

The temporary transition posts, which Obama will build on, are sought after because they can make a resume sparkle and also potentially lead to permanent positions in the new administration. Many of those announced Wednesday also paid their dues on Obama’s campaign.

Gips raised more than $500,000 for the campaign, while working group appointees Reed Hundt, a former FCC chairman, and Tom Wheeler, who headed a cellular and Internet trade group, raised more than $50,000 and $200,000, respectively, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Barnes, an attorney with a background in labor law, left her job as a vice president at the liberal Center for American Progress, once led by Obama transition co-chair John Podesta, to work as a senior domestic policy adviser for the Obama campaign. She served as Kennedy’s chief counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee and last year was featured in a Washingtonian.com story about well-dressed women. 

Ray Rivera, who left his job as a political organizer for the public employee union AFSCME to run the Obama-Biden campaign in Colorado, was tapped for the working group.

Clinton Pentagon hand Sarah Sewall, who wrote the introduction to a 2006 counterinsurgency field manual led by Army Gen. David Petraeus, the former U.S. commander in Iraq, took a part-time leave from the Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government to serve on Obama’s defense advisory team during the campaign and will work on his transition efforts related to the national security agencies.

Brown, who served as chief counsel to Gore in the White House, took a leave from her job as director of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, a liberal counterpart to the conservative Federalist Society, to co-chair Obama’s agency review working group.

Wednesday’s crop of names includes plenty of Beltway insiders, but also adheres to Obama’s recently unveiled ethics policy, which bars lobbyists from doing transition work in their area of expertise.

Still, the picks include at least four former federal lobbyists, as well a former top aide to Vice-President-elect Joe Biden, who left for a private sector job in government affairs.

Wheeler, who’s taken a leave from his job as venture capitalist at Core Capital Partners, spent decades as a high-paid lobbyist for two industry associations. He was president of the National Cable Television Association from 1979 to 1984, and later took the helm at the Internet Association and National Cable Television Association. At the telecom associations, he lobbied lawmakers to roll back regulation and won hundreds of wireless airwaves from the Defense Department for mobile carriers.

Wheeler also founded several high-tech companies and wrote two books about the Civil War. He sits on the boards of seven technology companies, including Earthlink, an Internet provider, and Helio, a cell phone operator.

Environmental lawyer David Hayes, who served as deputy interior secretary under former President Bill Clinton, was registered to lobby until 2006 for such clients as the Wireless Communications Association, San Diego Gas & Electric and Sempra Energy.

Sally Katzen, who during the Clinton administration held a series of high-level budget posts, was a registered lobbyist for Amgen until February.

Louisa Terrell recently left Biden’s Senate office, where she played a key role in passing the Delaware senator’s signature Violence Against Women Act, to head up Yahoo!’s public policy shop.

In addition to Gips and Hundt, Jon Wilkins also worked at the FCC, and is now on leave from McKinsey & Company, where he is a partner specializing in the media, cable, and technology industries.

During his controversial term as FCC chairman, Hundt oversaw the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the most sweeping overhaul of telecommunications law in decades.

Since leaving office, he has served on boards of directors of Intel and several other technology companies, and worked as an adviser to McKinsey and the Blackstone Group, a politically connected private equity firm.

Obama, whose technology-powered campaign revolutionized online political organizing and fundraising, has said he plans to create the country’s first chief technology officer to update and oversee the safety of government networks. And he’s pledged to require Cabinet members to hold online town hall meetings, put videos of government meetings online and create a database of grants and contracts.

Jeanne Cummings, Jen DiMascio, Erika Lovley and Alexander Burns contributed to this story.

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