President Bush shakes up Cabinet for second term

In case you haven't noticed, there's been an exodus in Washington, D.C., of President Bush's first-term Cabinet. Since November, nine of 15 department secretaries have announced their resignations.

So who's staying behind? Who's been nominated as replacements? Here's an update on the latest developments as Indian Country prepares for another four years of a Republican-controlled White House and Congress.

Secretary Gale Norton was in limbo for several weeks as she told reporters she loved her job and wanted to stay. Bush granted her wish on December 9, clearing up remaining doubts about his second-term Cabinet. Big issues for Norton include the Cobell trust fund lawsuit, trust reform, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Indian gaming. She will take them on without Deputy J. Steven Griles, a highly polarizing figure who announced his resignation on December 7.

Outgoing Secretary Tommy G. Thompson stated his intention to resign long before the November election and made good on his promise on December 3. Along with deputy Claude Allen, Thompson won praise as an advocate for Indian health and for visiting reservations throughout the country, including those in his home state of Wisconsin and the Navajo Nation. As a replacement, Bush has named Environmental Protection Agency chief Michael Leavitt, who was Utah's former governor. Indian Health Service Director Dr. Charles Grim will remain in his post. Health prevention, diabetes and reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act will remain key issues.

Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns (R) is Bush's replacement for Ann Veneman, whose resignation came on November 15. Nebraska is home to four federally recognized tribes but Johanns has not endeared himself to them. His administration opposed any expansion of gaming, saying tribes could establish casinos anywhere they wanted. But he has sought to address the sale of liquor in the border town of Whiteclay. At Agriculture, big issues include mad cow disease, protecting the food supply from terrorist attacks and ethanol production.

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act has been a large unknown for many in Indian Country under Secretary Rod Paige, whose resignation was announced on November 12. Tribal leaders and educators question whether the law will improve failing Bureau of Indian Affairs schools and rural schools where many Indian students are taught. With statistics showing Indian children falling behind, standards and testing will be a big issue as White House adviser Margaret Spellings takes helm. The administration has touted its successes in creating a White House Tribal College advisory board and initiative and in the signing of an executive to apply the goals of the NLCB to Indian education.

Like Gale Norton, Secretary Alphonso Jackson is one of four first-term secretaries who will stay on the job. Jackson himself was a mid-term replacement for Mel Martinez, who left the Bush administration for a successful run for U.S. Senate. Jackson has won praise for working with the National Congress of American Indians and the National American Indian Housing Council to improve housing in Indian Country. He also released a key study that shows 1 in 4 Indian renters face discrimination in urban areas.

Outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft, who announced his resignation on November 9, has been a polarizing figure for what some say was his overzealous attention to the war on terror. But under his leadership, violent crime in Indian Country has remained at extremely high rates as it declined elsewhere. And through Solicitor General Ted Olson, who appears to be staying through the second term, and other top officials, the department has fought to limit the government's trust responsibilities to individual Indians and tribes. Lack of funding for Indian Country jails surfaced as a major issue earlier this year. Bush has tapped White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. a trusted aide, for the post.

Tribes sought to gain footing in this newly created department as soon as Secretary Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania, took command. They have had some success but obstacles, primarily funding and law enforcement, remain as Ridge prepares to depart. Bernard B. Kerik, former New York City police commission during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, had been chosen as a replacement but withdrew late Friday because he hired and illegal immigrant as a nanny and failed to pay income taxes.

It is estimated that tribal lands contain 10 to 20 percent of the nation's untapped energy resources. Tribes are eager to develop their lands but not much has happened under outgoing Secretary Spencer Abraham, whose main focuses were the failed energy policy legislation, drilling in ANWR and energy crises throughout the nation. Tapped as his replacement is Samuel W. Bodman, an unknown deputy from the Treasury Department. His big priority in the coming term will be ANWR.

Despite tribal focus on economic development, the Commerce Department has not been prominent on Indian issues under Secretary Donald Evans, who resigned on November 9. But the department's many agencies have their hands in important areas including subsistence whaling, salmon restoration and endangered species. Carlos M. Gutierrez, the Cuban-born executive of the Kellogg cereal company, has been tapped as Evans' replacement and he intends to promote small businesses, including minority-owned ones. But his chief focus will be selling Bush's economic policies.

This department has posed problems for Bush from the beginning. Paul O'Neil was sacked in late 2002 after making numerous statements that appeared to conflict with the Bush agenda. His replacement, business executive John Snow, was the subject of rumors that he was going to be forced out after the election. But Bush asked him to stay and he will focus on selling an overhaul of Social Security and tax reforms. The Treasury Department is a defendant in the Cobell trust fund lawsuit but has earned commendations for making reforms after its employees were found to be destroying documents.

During the last three years, outgoing Secretary Anthony J. Principi paid respect numerous times to American Indian and Alaska Native veterans, who have served in the military at rates far greater than any other racial or ethnic group. He will be replaced by Jim Nicholson, a decorated Vietnam veteran who currently serves as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

Secretary Norm Mineta, the lone Democrat, is one of the few holdouts from Bush's first term. His department's biggest issue is reauthorization of the nation's highway and transportation act. Tribes are gunning for a larger share of highway funds in order to repair and replace hundreds of miles of substandard roads and bridges. Tribes also want to take the Bureau of Indian Affairs out of the picture and get more footing at the Transportation Department. But Congress and the White House are at odds over the size of the massive $284-plus billion package.

Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's job was secured long before anyone else's due to his command of the military during the invasion of Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the ongoing war in Iraq. He faces questions about the length of the occupation in that country, where several Native soldiers have been killed since the start of the conflict in March 2003. Nearly 1,300 deaths have been documented so far. An estimated 10,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives are in active military duty.

Outgoing Secretary Colin Powell was among the first to announce his resignation, which came on November 15. He will be replaced by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. On foreign policy, Powell's preference towards negotiation was at odds with Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, who favored a more a hard-line approach. Rice's views are closer to the latter.

Secretary Elaine Chao is staying for a second Bush term but has been all but invisible on any tribal issues even as unemployment in Indian Country is at sky-high rates.