U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson resigned, citing health reasons less than two weeks after being treated for a seizure following a pair of minor car accidents in California.
Bryson, 68, who has been in office eight months, was found unconscious in his Lexus after the second of two collisions, Los Angeles County police said. He was treated for a seizure the same day, according to his office, and informed President Barack Obama of his resignation yesterday.
“I have concluded that the seizure I suffered on June 9th could be a distraction from my performance as secretary and that our country would be better served by a change of leadership of the department,” Bryson, the former chief executive officer of Edison International, wrote in a letter to Obama released today.
Deputy Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, an economist, has been the acting head of the agency since Bryson took a medical leave June 11.
Police said Bryson passed field tests for alcohol use at the scene and that they don’t suspect drugs were involved. They are still are awaiting results of blood tests to confirm he was not under the influence of any substances, San Gabriel Police Lieutenant Daniel Russo said by telephone today.
Police had been investigating possible felony hit-and-run charges after Bryson drove his car into the rear of stopped vehicle at a railroad crossing and five minutes later struck another car two miles away. No case has been forwarded to prosecutors, Russo said.
In a statement issued today, Obama thanked Bryson for his service.
“John fought tirelessly for our nation’s businesses and workers, helping to bolster our exports and promote American manufacturing and products at home and abroad,” Obama said. “John has proven himself an effective and distinguished leader throughout his career in both the public and private sectors.”
Obama press secretary Jay Carney declined to say whether the president would nominate a replacement for Senate confirmation before the November election.
With an election fewer than five months away and the Senate planning to recess in August, time is short to find a replacement at the agency that has 47,000 employees and a $7.5 billion budget. The department had been a key component in delivering on Obama’s goal of doubling annual U.S. exports to $3.14 trillion by the end of 2014 from 2009 levels.
“It is not a position you can simply ignore,” said James Lucier, a senior political analyst at Capital Alpha Partners LLC in Washington. “You have to find a candidate and move it forward. But I’m not sure it can be successful in five months.”
Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Commerce Committee, praised Bryson’s tenure as sparking manufacturing and helping promote American businesses.
“I have great respect for John and his desire to resign in an effort to make sure there are no distractions toward job growth and advancing America’s businesses and entrepreneurs for a full economic recovery,” Rockefeller said in a statement.
The agency also runs the Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among other functions.
In his statement, Obama said he was confident in Blank’s abilities and the department would continue “putting forward policies that help our workers and businesses compete.”