Carter Said to Be Leading Contender for Energy Secretary

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is the leading candidate to replace Steven Chu as energy secretary in President Barack Obama’s second term, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Carter, 58, a physicist, would be part of the core administration team overseeing energy and environmental policy, according to the people, who requested anonymity to discuss personnel matters.

Chu, 64, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, may announce his departure from the administration this week, according to two other people. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Lisa Jackson, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency, previously announced their intentions to exit the administration.

The energy secretary will have a central role as Obama attempts to translate into policy the pledge he made in his Jan. 21 inaugural address to “respond to the threat of climate change.”

“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult,” Obama said. “But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it.”

With his inauguration behind him, Obama is filling out his Cabinet and organizing his White House staff to help him execute his agenda in the next four years.

Obama will have several Cabinet-level posts to fill in the coming weeks. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced yesterday he will leave the administration next month.

Gay Rights

Obama, who is the first president to advocate for the cause of gay rights in an inaugural speech, may name Fred Hochberg, currently the president of the Export-Import Bank, to replace Kirk, according to another person. Hochberg would be the first openly gay man to serve in a Cabinet-level position.

Obama also is considering Lael Brainard, the Treasury Undersecretary for International Affairs, Jeff Zients, the acting Office of Management and Budget Director, and Francisco J. Sanchez, the undersecretary of commerce for international trade, for the trade representative post, according to the person, who also requested anonymity because none of the changes has been announced.

Mike Froman, an Obama law school classmate who had been the leading candidate for the USTR job, has signaled to colleagues that he may be more interested in staying in his current role as the assistant to the president for international economics, said another person, who also asked to not be named discussing personnel changes.

Obama Agenda

With a focus on finance, trade, development, energy and climate change, Froman’s portfolio, as well as his personal relationship with the president, covers issues that will be prominent in the agenda Obama has laid out.

Amy Brundage, a White House spokeswoman, declined to comment on personnel matters.

The White House announced yesterday that it had sent to the Senate the nominations of former Senator Chuck Hagel to be Defense Secretary, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry to be Secretary of State, Chief of Staff Jack Lew to be Treasury Secretary and John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, to be the Central Intelligence Agency Director.

Some women’s groups have been critical of Obama’s record on promoting women to high-profile positions, citing those four nominees among Obama’s first choices as he shuffled his top advisers for his second term.

Economic Posts

Obama is considering women for key economic posts, including Wal-Mart Foundation President Sylvia Mathews Burwell for budget director and Ruth Porat, chief financial officer at Morgan Stanley (MS), as a leading candidate for deputy Treasury secretary.

Matthews, who served as deputy Office of Management and Budget director in the Clinton administration, will probably be offered the budget post after final vetting is finished, said two of the people.

At the Commerce Department, Obama is still considering a business executive, something that he’s said he strived for.

“It’s something I would have loved to have done in the first term,” Obama said in a Dec. 4 interview with Bloomberg Television.

“One of the biggest problems we’ve got in terms of recruiting business leaders into the administration is the confirmation process has become so miserable, so drawn out, that for successful folks to want to put themselves through that process, you know, a lot of folks are just shying away,” he said.

While White House officials have approached Xerox Corp. (XRX) Chief Executive Officer Ursula Burns for the commerce job, she has told them that she isn’t interested, according to two of the people.

To contact the reporter on this story: Hans Nichols in Washington at hnichols2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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