Bodman has served at Commerce, Treasury departments and Nicholson was an Army Ranger in Vietnam. (Photos courtesy of the White House)

In a surprise move, President Bush has picked Deputy Treasury Secretary Samuel Bodman as his nominee to lead the Dept. of Energy. If the Senate confirms Bodman, he would succeed Spencer Abraham as DOE Secretary. Bush also named Jim Nicholson, former Republican National Committee chairman, to be secretary of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

Before moving to Treasury last February, Bodman, whose nomination was announced on Dec. 10, was deputy secretary at the Commerce Dept. Trained as a chemical engineer, Bodman has no evident background in the energy field, but does have extensive academic and corporate management experience. He taught chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later became president of Fidelity Investments and then Chairman and CEO of Cabot Corp., a specialty chemical company.


"Sam Bodman has shown himself to be a problem solver who knows how to set goals and he knows how to reach them," Bush said. "He will bring to the Dept. of Energy a great talent for management and the precise thinking of an engineer."

At DOE, Bodman's challenges include shepherding a long-delayed energy bill through Congress. If a new bill is introduced, a new round is expected in the fight over opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) said Bodman's "financial expertise will be a tremendous asset in accurately assessing the economic impact of energy policy and crafting that policy in an environment of fiscal restraint."

Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council , notes that Bodman will face major challenges at DOE. "He must act to maintain fuel diversity, including the robust use of coal in our economy. This means supporting clarification of new source review [Clean Air Act provisions under] and the adoption of Clear Skies legislation on Capitol Hill," said Segal.

At VA, the main construction issue for Nicholson would be keeping the department's $5-billion-plus, six-year construction program on track. The Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) plan aims to modernize VA's extensive network of hospitals and other health-care facilities, whose average age is 53 years. It also seeks to build more facilities in the Sunbelt areas where many veterans now live and add more outpatient clinics to the mix.

In fiscal year 2004, the first big year of CARES, VA's plan called for $888 million in construction. For 2005, VA is projecting an additional $583 million worth of work. In the omnibus 2005 appropriations bill, Congress appropriated $547 million for major and minor CARES-related projects.

Nicholson, whose selection was announced on Dec. 9, now is U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. He is a graduate of West Point and was an Army Ranger in Vietnam. If confirmed, Nicholson would succeed Anthony Principi as head of VA.