White House dangled key jobs to Romanoff despite his slim qualifications

Andrew Romanoff, the Democratic Senate candidate in Colorado who was offered key administration jobs by the White House to convince him not to run, is known for his successful record in the Colorado legislature, where he rose to be speaker of the House.

But his qualifications – and the type of experience on his resume – are slim in comparison to some of the previous people who have held those same positions.

For instance, Romanoff does not have any significant managerial experience, but each of the three slots the White House dangled in front of him would have involved leading dozens of employees.

And while international poverty is a passion of Romanoff’s, he does not have any high-level experience working on international aid or trade issues.

Giving unqualified loyalists key jobs in the bureaucracy is nothing new to Washington, but critics say President Obama promised a new sort of politics.

“Whatever the Obama brand used to stand for has been irrevocably shattered by the activities going on inside Barack Obama’s White House,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, a key GOP oversight committee official and Obama’s chief congressional tormentor.

In September 2009, White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina sent an email to Romanoff listing the titles to three jobs in Washington that Romanoff might have been more interested in than continuing his candidacy. The Obama administration was hoping Romanoff would drop out of the race because they preferred another Democrat for the race.

One of the positions dangled was the chief of a small agency, the U.S. Trade Development Agency (USTDA), which has a $55.2 million budget and 78 employees. The agency’s mission is to increase development abroad with “feasibility studies, reverse trade missions, conferences, trainings, and other technical assistance programs,” according to Messina’s email.

The current director of the USTDA is Leocadia Zak, who previously served for nine years in senior level positions at the agency before Obama nominated her to lead it. From 2006 to 2009 she served as deputy director.

The second position is at the assistant secretary level in the United States Agency for International Aid (USAID), heading a Latin American and Caribbean bureau responsible for all the USAID funds that go to that region.

Federal agencies are divided into offices, each with its own assistant secretary or assistant administrator – which is generally one rung down and reports to secretaries like Kathleen Sebelius, who heads the Department of Health and Human Services.

Currently, Janet Ballantyne is acting director of that office. Her experience includes several senior posts at USAID.

The last politically-appointed director of the office was Paul Bonitelli, whose previous job before leading the office was the deputy slot at another office within USAID.

Romanoff does have some experience in Latin America — he taught English for one year in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

The final slot, Director of the Office of Democracy and Governance in USAID, is one rung below the assistant secretary position. Dorothy Douglas Taft is heading that office. She has over a decade of foreign policy experience in the bureaucracy and as a Capitol Hill staffer.

Issa’s spokesman Kurt Bardella said the White House job dangling shows the administration is setting low standards for key jobs in the bureaucracy.

“It’s clear that the standards they use for filling positions paid for by the taxpayers is unbelievably low and confirms the worst of what the American people think of their government,” Bardella said.