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EPA Chief Tapped to Lead Health and Human Services Agency

The announcement came as the White House continued to search for a new Homeland Security nominee following the abrupt withdrawal of Bernard Kerik late Friday night.

“He’s managed the EPA with skill and with a focus on results,” President Bush said of Michael Leavitt. “He’s an ideal choice to lead one of the largest departments of the United States government.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Leavitt would replace Tommy Thompson, the current secretary who announced his resignation Dec. 3.

Leavitt, a former governor of Utah, took over the EPA in November of 2003, succeeding former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who resigned five months earlier.

“I feel a real sense of understandable regret after having to leave the environmental protection agency,” said Leavitt. “The quality of health and health condition of people in this nation is a commitment that is shared among both agencies, as is the connection between science and health.”

The Department of Health and Human Services accounts for almost one fourth of all federal spending. It has a $548 billion budget, 66,639 workers, and oversees more than 300 federal programs or agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, Medicare, Medicaid health-insurance plans and medical research, according to Bloomberg News.

The announcement came as the administration was looking to find another replacement for Tom Ridge as secretary of the Homeland Security Department.

The original choice, former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, withdrew his name from consideration late Friday, saying he failed to file taxes and other legal documentation for an immigrant employed as his family’s nanny.

“I owe the president an enormous amount of gratitude for this consideration. I owe him a great apology that this may have caused him and his administration a big distraction,” Kerik told the Associated Press on Saturday.

“I’m going to spend some time with my family. I’m going to work on getting messages out to people close to me who have been supportive, apologizing for the embarrassment,” he said.

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said Saturday the administration would work on naming someone else as soon as possible. Some rumored possibilities include White House homeland security advisor Frances Fragos Townsend; White House deputy chief of staff for operations Joseph Hagin; and Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for transportation and border security at Homeland Security, according to The Washington Post.

The decision to withdraw was solely Kerik’s and was not initiated by the White House, Buchan said.

Other media reports have revealed other possible problems with Kerik’s nomination besides the nanny revelation.

Newsweek reported that a New Jersey judge in 1998 issued an arrest warrant as part of a series of lawsuits related to unpaid bills involving a New Jersey condominium owned by Kerik.

Also, Kerik was expected to face intense questioning in the Senate over his position on the board of Taser International, a Scottsdale, Ariz., manufacturer of stun guns. He made more than $6 million promoting the sales of Tasers to law-enforcement organizations.

Prior to Kerik’s withdrawal, a White House spokesman had said Kerik would resign from Taser’s board and sell his remaining stock if confirmed.

The end of Kerik’s nomination is reminiscent of similar immigration woes that dogged past former nominees, including Linda Chavez, President Bush’s first choice for labor secretary, and three of former President Clinton’s picks — his first two choices for attorney general, Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, as well as Lani Guinier, who had been chosen to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division.

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