The Facts | Does Obama's Cabinet Have Private Sector Experience

1:26 PM, Oct 11, 2012   |    comments
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By JEFFREY BRUNER (Gannett)

Question: Does less than 10 percent of President Barack Obama's Cabinet have private-sector experience?

Answer: This is a viral email that's been around for several years, but it keeps popping up so let's take a look. The argument made is that virtually no one in Obama's Cabinet has worked in the private sector and therefore doesn't know how to create jobs.

There are 11 of 15 Cabinet members who have held jobs before they became politicians or public servants:

-- Tom Vilsack (agriculture) was a lawyer in private practice before going into politics.

-- John Bryson (commerce; resigned in June) worked for Edison International and served on the corporate boards of Boeing and the Walt Disney Company.

-- Arne Duncan (education) was CEO of Chicago Public Schools.
-- Steven Chu won a Nobel Prize as a scientist for Bell Labs before going into higher education.

-- Janet Napolitano (homeland security) worked as a lawyer for a Phoenix law firm before becoming a U.S. attorney and later, governor.

-- Shaun Donovan (housing and urban development) worked as managing director for Prudential Mortgage Capital from 2002 to 2004, before becoming New York City's housing commissioner.

-- Ken Salazar (interior) was a lawyer in private practice before becoming a politician.

-- Hillary Rodham Clinton (state) was a lawyer in private practice before becoming first lady and later, senator from New York.

-- Timothy Geithner (treasury) was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and, in 2007, turned down an offer to become CEO of Citibank.

-- Eric Holder (justice) was a lawyer in private practice from 2001 to 2007 prior to becoming attorney general.

Two people -- Leon Panetta (defense) and Eric Shinseki (veterans affairs) served in the Army after college. Panetta eventually went into politics but Shinseki spent his career in the armed forces.

-- Kathleen Sebelius (health and human services) was primarily a lobbyist before going into politics and Ray LaHood (transportation) was a teacher and worked in social services before running for Congress. Hilda Solis (labor) has spent her career in politics.

So if you believe being a lawyer counts as private-sector experience, then that's 10 of 15. While Arne Duncan may have had his salary paid by taxpayer dollars, it's fair to say that managing a $5 billion budget requires some business acumen.

(Jeffrey Bruner is the wire chief for the Gannett National Wire Desk in Des Moines.)

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