Shortlists: Higginbottom mulled for 2nd DepSecState; Tom Shannon after Brazil


The White House and Secretary of State John Kerry are considering nominating State Department counselor and former OMB deputy director Heather Higginbottom as the next Deputy Secretary of State for management and resources, several current and former U.S. officials say. The second Deputy Secretary slot, currently vacant, was previously held by Tom Nides and Jack Lew, now Treasury Secretary.

“Kerry recruited Heather from OMB with an eye towards putting her in a confirm-able position soon, but he didn’t want to delay her arrival by several months during his transition period,” an administration official, speaking not for attribution, told the Back Channel Wednesday.

“She started out with the confidence of the Secretary and the President and hit the ground running as Counselor, engaging with senior leaders at the State Department,” the official said. “I think it’s safe to say that this would be a hit across the board given her budget experience and relationships and her understanding now of the Department.”

Higginbottom served in the Obama White House as deputy director of OMB from 2011 to 2013, and as Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy from 2009-2010. She previously served as legislative director for then Senator Kerry from 1999 until 2007, and on Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. She didn’t respond to a query Wednesday.

Tom Shannon After Brazil

With his successor nominated, US Ambassador to Brazil Tom Shannon is heading back to Washington soon. While his next interim assignment is unclear, some current and former U.S. officials tell the Back Channel that the Obama administration is considering nominating Shannon to be the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey, possibly in the fall or in 2014. Sources cautioned however that plans could change depending on other moves afoot in the upper ranks of the State Department bureaucracy.

Shannon said he expects to head next to Washington, but couldn’t comment beyond that. President Obama recently nominated Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Liliana Ayalde, a former ambassador to Paraguay and senior USAID official, to succeed him in Brazil.

Turkey is so important to so many U.S. national security priorities, that the administration spends a lot of time thinking of the right person for the slot, as much as a year in advance, and Shannon is very highly regarded by the Obama administration, a former senior U.S. official involved in the Obama transition told the Back Channel. A former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs and ambassador in Brasilia since 2009, Shannon, an Oxford educated career foreign service officer, served in the White House from 2003 to 2005 as special assistant to the president and senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

One key consideration playing into the deliberations, sources said, is who could move up if Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns decides to leave at some point. Some sources say that the very highly regarded Burns may wish to go when the building is stabilized and more senior leadership gets in place, if he can’t be persuaded to stay. (And they will beg him to stay, several current and former officials said.)

One possibility if he leaves is that Under Secretary of State for Policy Wendy Sherman could be nominated for the deputy slot. In that case, a senior foreign service officer (such as current US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone or Shannon, etc.) could be nominated to serve as “P.” Another possibility is that a senior career foreign service officer could be nominated for the deputy slot. It doesn’t seem that any decision on that has yet been made, and Burns, who didn’t respond to a query Wednesday, hasn’t made public any plans to leave.

(Top Photo: State Department counselor Heather Higginbottom previously served as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. OMB photo. Second photo: US Ambassador to Brazil Tom Shannon, Department of State photo.)