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Executive Summary

HHS SECRETARY-DESIGNATE SULLIVAN's CAPITOL HILL INTRODUCTIONS and warm-up briefings are continuing with a low profile. Sullivan is continuing to prepare for the major issues that will confront him as the head of the department. Reportedly, Sullivan has been meeting with members of both the Senate Finance and Labor and Human Resources Committees, the two panels that will hold confirmation proceedings, to exchange views on some of the major policy issues that he will face as secretary. The focus of the discussions has been on the full range of policy administered by HHS. The abortion tempest that complicated his nomination over the past several weeks apparently has subsided -- especially with the naming of his top assistants. Both Senate committees had scheduled confirmation proceedings during the week of Jan. 30. However, the hearings were postponed indefinitely because the White House and the FBI have not completed their background checks on Sullivan. The hearings are unlikely to be rescheduled until after President Bush's address to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 9. White House sources said that the postponement request was routine and attributed it to continued clearance checks. The White House said the delay did not indicate that President Bush was having second thoughts about nominating Sullivan for the HHS position. The delay in completing the background paperwork, however, buys time for Bush advisors to bring Sullivan up to speed on the Administration's positions on the key issues he will face. Sullivan is using the extra time to become more familiar with both the Washington political landscape and the people in the department he will head. One reported version of the Sullivan delay laid the slowdown to the secretary-designate's desire to maintain an appointment with Morehouse College. By keeping that type of conflict-of-interest story alive, the administration is maintaining a plausible way out for both the White House and/or Sullivan if the confirmation process goes sour again. The secretary designate is currently working out of office space at HHS headquarters in Washington. He is joined there by the top subcabinet level nominees announced so far: Undersecretary Constance Horner, Assistant Secretary for Health James Mason, MD, and Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Kay James. Also working closely with the top group is the transition staff headed by FDA Commissioner Frank Young, MD. Young, however, has begun to spend more of his time back at FDA headquarters after devoting most of the last month on full-time detail as head of the transition team.

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