Jack Lew, OMB director under Clinton, is going to the State Department as one of the two Deputy Secretaries. Apparently he will concentrate on managing the department; the other Deputy, James Steinberg, is more a foreign-policy wonk.
This fits with earlier reports that the Obama team plans to move substantial money from Defense to State. Such a budget move makes obvious sense; if the Iraq adventure shows anything, it’s that bombs aren’t actually very cost-effective compared to bribes. But State’s reputation as the gang that couldn’t shoot straight was going to be a barrier both to getting the money through the budget process and to using it well. (“Isn’t it remarkable,” a veteran of the foreign policy wars once said to me, “what a stupid organization you can put together from a bunch of very smart people?”)
If that’s the problem, then Jack Lew is the solution. By all accounts he did a fine job at OMB, and having cut his teeth in Tip O’Neill’s policy operation he has deep roots on Capitol Hill. I’ve known him since his college days; he even reported to me, briefly, when Jerry Mechling was the management-and-budget honcho at Kevin White’s Boston City Hall and hired me to run a small policy shop. After seeing Jack in action for a couple of months, Jerry predicted that we’d all wind up working for him some day.
Even then, Jack had a characteristic I’ve encountered only a few times in my life: automatic integrity. He’s just one of those people who aren’t even tempted to cut corners, or at least that’s the way he comes across. He was also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met; in thirty years, I’ve never known Jack to be rude to anyone.
Now in my experience nice people aren’t nearly as rare as people of perfect integrity, but they do seem to get a little bit scarcer as you move up the pecking order. (The only person I’ve known at that level of politics who’s as nice as Jack is Phil Heymann.) So it’s always great to see one of the nice guys finishing first.