Questions of Bioethics
Whether considering stem-cell research, access to birth control, abortion, abstinence education or terminally ill patients, the next HHS secretary will be front and center as the Obama administration navigates complex questions of bioethics. President George W. Bush signed an executive order that banned federal funding for stem-cell research -- housed at NIH -- except for lines already in use. The new administration could reverse that decision with an executive order permitting federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, a stance opposed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Increasing SCHIP and Medicaid Payments
One of the first orders of business for HHS is likely to be expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which provides health coverage to children of low-income families. Bush has vetoed efforts in Congress to expand SCHIP in the past. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said quickly sending a new SCHIP expansion to PObama will be near the top of the to-do list for the next Congress.
The incoming HHS secretary is likely to take some steps, too. Lambrew, the expected deputy director, said SCHIP expansion should be first on Daschle's list.
In an essay she wrote for the Center for American Progress, a think tank that appears to provide the intellectual blueprint for much of Obama's agenda, Lambrew said, "An immediate step for the new president is to lift constraints on the expansion of state health insurance programs imposed by a set of administrative policies established by President Bush. Despite a growing uninsured population, the Bush administration implemented a number of executive-branch policies that limit states' ability to expand Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program. ... The new HHS secretary should immediately roll back or amend these policies."
Electronic Health Records
In an effort to curb medical errors and save time and money, Obama has also advocated requiring a standard for electronic health records. The Bush administration under HHS secretary Leavitt has made a significant push toward transitioning from paper to electronic records, navigating concerns about patient privacy along the way. It has advocated for a standardized system, free-of-charge, and the next administration is expected to continue that effort.
Number of HHS Positions for Political Appointees
Of the 64,750 employees with the Department of Health and Human Services, 140 are political appointees. At the FDA, there are three political positions: commissioner, head of legal affairs and senior advisor in the chief of staff's office.
About a dozen of HHS' political positions require Senate confirmation, including Daschle's. Those requiring Senate confirmation also include the heads of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, NIH, FDA, Administration on Aging, Administration for Children and Families, Indian Health Service and the surgeon general.
ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf and Jake Tapper contributed to this report.