On Wednesday, just one day before Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew was confirmed as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sat down with his incoming replacement, Thomas Nides.
Nides is currently the chief operating officer of Morgan Stanley, and previously worked as chief administrative officer of Credit Suisse First Boston, chief executive officer of public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, and senior vice president of Fannie Mae. He has also served in various government posts, including as chief of staff to U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, executive assistant to House Speaker Tom Foley, and assistant to House Majority Whip Tony Coelho.
"This is a job that Tom's been nominated for that will require managing a large, complex and sometimes unwieldy bureaucracy," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), who introduced Nides at his nomination hearing. "It is an assignment that I know he's uniquely qualified for based on firsthand experience with Tom's ability to manage another large, complex and unwieldy bureaucracy, namely my 2000 vice presidential campaign."
Nides began his remarks by praising Lew. "I come here today against the advice of a friend who warned me that it is never wise to follow a legend," he said.
Nides will be a key actor in implementing the State Department's first ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, whenever it gets finished, and he promised to make "the effort to elevate civilian power ... a core element of our foreign policy.". But he's admitted that this effort "remains a work in progress."
His second priority, if confirmed, will be to streamline operations between State, USAID, and other government agencies. He warned that the tough fiscal environment might require State to find ways to trim spending after increasing budgets and expanding hiring over the last two years.
"We need to build a budget that aligns scarce resources with our highest priorities and finds efficiencies across bureaus and agencies working in the same areas," Nides said. "I will help the secretary make the strongest argument for the resources that State and USAID need. But I will also continue my predecessor's efforts to drive hard choices and cease lower-priority programs and activities that cannot be justified in this economic and fiscal climate."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) warned Nides that his job in fighting for State Department money was going to be a difficult one.
"You are going to have the primary responsibility for shepherding and defending the president's fiscal year 2012 international affairs budget request, and it's pretty obvious that we face an increasingly uncertain complicated budget environment, particularly when it comes to foreign affairs," Kerry said.
The committee also heard the testimony of three other State Department nominees, Suzan Johnson Cook to serve as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, William Brownfield to be assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, and Paige Alexander, the administration's nominee to be USAID assistant administrator for Europe and Eurasia.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.