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Think tanks supply Obama nominees

By Laurie Bennett

July 8, 2009 at 7:59am

When the White House switches parties, the lineup changes at the think tanks.

Newly unemployed Republicans find work at organizations such as the American Enterprise Institute, where Dick Cheney is a trustee and Newt Gingrich is a fellow.

Democrats who have been cooling their heels at research organizations move to prime government posts.

Two groups that have already lost multiple members to the Obama administration are the Center for a New American Security and the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution.

Both sprouted during the George W. Bush administration. The Hamilton Project, launched in 2006, produces research and policy papers on growing the economy. The Center for a New American Security, begun in 2007, focuces on national security and defense.

Former officials of the Center for a New American Security who have joined Team Obama include:

  • Michele A. Flournoy, under secretary of defense, whom The New York Times describes as “a window into President Obama’s no-drama Pentagon.” She was also one of the few Democrats to speak in favor of Bush’s surge strategy in Iraq. Flournoy’s husband, W. Scott Gould, is deputy veterans affairs secretary.
  • National intelligence director Dennis C. Blair, an Asia expert and a retired four-star admiral. Blair was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford with former President Bill Clinton and served as CEO of the Institute for Defense Analyses.
  • William J. Lynn, deputy defense secretary. Lynn’s nomination stirred controversy because of his lobbying work for defense contractor Raytheon. He previously served as under secretary of defense during the Clinton administration.

John Podesta, who coordinated the Obama-Biden transition, is also a former director of the center.

The Hamilton Project sent two of its directors to the Obama White House. Jason Furman is now deputy director of the National Economic Council, and Peter Orszag is budget director.

Laura D’Andrea Tyson, an advisory council member of the project, is an economic adviser to the president.

Think tanks, which have grown more numerous and more powerful in recent years, now function as America’s answer to Britain’s “government in waiting.” Their influence, predicts the Carnegie Corporation, may reach its peak during the Obama years.

James G. McGann at the University of Pennsylvania recently issued a survey of think tanks across the world. The top organizations in the U.S., ranked by criteria such as impact on policy, credibility in the media, ability to retain scholars and analysts and finances:

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