Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Acting Commerce chief takes post at University of Wisconsin

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank said on Monday she plans to become chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in July, leaving another hole for President Barack Obama to fill in his economic team.

"I am honored and delighted to be offered the job of Chancellor at UW-Madison. This is a world-class school, and I have been continually impressed by the caliber, dedication and enthusiasm of its students, faculty and staff," Blank said in a statement put out by the university.

Blank's departure means that Obama now two top slots to fill at the Commerce Department. An announcement is not expected for at least a couple of weeks.

Former Commerce Secretary John Bryson resigned for health reasons in June.

Blank, the department's deputy secretary, has been acting commerce chief since then, reprising a role she played when Bryson's predecessor, Gary Locke, stepped down as commerce secretary to become the U.S. ambassador to China.

Chicago businesswoman and billionaire Penny Pritzker has been considered a top candidate for the Commerce post.

Pritzker is a member of the family that owns the Hyatt hotel chain and a friend of Obama who played roles in both of his presidential campaigns.

Her personal wealth might be one reason the White House vetting process has taken so long.

She ranked 271st on Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest Americans with an estimated net worth of $1.8 billion.

A White House spokesman said they would not discuss who Obama could tap for the Commerce Department job.

Faced with a number of high-profile departures at the end of his first term, Obama moved quickly to fill key cabinet posts at the departments of State, Treasury and Defense. But the top Commerce Department job has been open for eight months.

Obama also still has not nominated a replacement for former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who signaled his plans to leave last year and departed last week.

Obama thanked Blank for her service in a number of Commerce Department positions.

"A tireless advocate for American businesses, Becky has helped to increase our competitiveness, support our innovators and entrepreneurs, and bring good-paying jobs back to our shores," Obama said in a statement.

Blank, who has a PhD in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Techncology, joined the Obama administration in June 2009 as the commerce undersecretary for economics and became deputy commerce secretary in March 2012.

In a letter to Commerce Department employees, Blank said she expected to take up her new post in July and would continue to work at the department for now.

"Let me hasten to say that I am not going anywhere in the near future ... I expect to welcome a new Secretary of Commerce before I leave," Blank said.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Jackie Frank)


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