Obama tapped former California Congressman Leon Panetta as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Panetta was confirmed by the Senate on Feb. 12, 2009. Panetta previously served as President Clinton's White House chief of staff, but throughout the confirmation process critics said he lacked hands-on intelligence experience, other than time spent in the Army, from which he was discharged in 1966. While some in the CIA approved his pick, some former top CIA officials said that the choice could have a chilling effect on the agency. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also expressed concern about Panetta's appointment, saying that "the agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time." Still, Obama officials defended their pick, saying Panetta had gained extensive intelligence experience during his time in the White House. Human rights groups also applauded the pick. ABC News learned that initially Obama may have been considering retaining Michael Hayden for the post but that may have changed because Hayden took a lot of heat for defending and implementing the Bush administration's counterterrorism strategies, including waterboarding and wiretapping. Panetta has stated in an Op-Ed that "torture is illegal, immoral, dangerous and counterproductive." As CIA director, Panetta would report to Dennis Blair.
Obama announced his economic team Nov. 24, including his selection of Timothy J. Geithner to be secretary of treasury. At the time, Geithner was president of the New York Federal Reserve and well-known on Wall Street, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average soared almost 500 points Nov. 21 when the news of Obama's pick leaked out. Similarities between Geithner and the President are clear at every turn. Geithner was confirmed on Jan. 26, 2009 after relatively tough confirmation proceedings. The Senate voted 60-34 in Geithner's favor after examining questions about his failure to pay the correct amount of taxes on time, and employing a housekeeper whose work authorization had expired.
Obama had paged CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta for the post of surgeon general in early January. But Obama never made an official announcement and Gupta said he was taking himself out of the running in early March. CNN cited his desire to continue working instead as a neurosurgeon and CNN medical analyst. At the time, Gupta's wife was pregnant with their third child.
Obama's third pick for Commerce Secretary is former Washington governor Gary Locke, the first Chinese-American governor in the country. The president's first pick, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, bowed out on Jan. 4, 2009, amid questions about whether he played any part in a "pay-to-play" scheme. Obama's second choice, Republican senator Judd Gregg likewise withdrew from consideration on Feb. 12, 2009, citing differences over policy with the Obama White House. The Senate vote to confirm Locke for the job on March 24, 2009.