Towson University political scientist Martha Joynt Kumar said it appeared that Bush was moving quickly to assemble his second-term Cabinet so the balance of the year could be devoted to discussions of the administration's policy agenda rather than chatter about personnel changes, as occurred during the lull between Bill Clinton's first and second terms.
With six Cabinet departures already in the offing, Bush is poised to enjoy a full transition period, one that he did not have four years ago because that disputed election was not settled until Dec. 13, 2000, when Democrat Al Gore conceded. Thus, the president appears well-positioned to start his second term without undue delay.
But Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University, warned that it may take significantly longer to fill the array of "sub-Cabinet" posts, that is, the senior positions in each of the agencies facing a vacancy at the top.
"This is the beginning of a massive restructuring of the sub-Cabinet," Light said. "And it's going to require a great deal of work. But second-term presidents have only a very short time to make their mark."
Among other Cabinet secretaries who also may resign in the coming weeks and months are Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, trade representative Robert Zoellick, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, the only Democrat in Bush's Cabinet.
Abraham, 52, leaves the Energy Department after a tenure marked by frustration over the administration's inability to win congressional approval for Bush's high-priority energy bill, which emphasized increased energy production and conservation, including drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
In his resignation letter, Abraham claimed that 90% of what was in the energy legislation has been achieved administratively; but Bush throughout the just-ended campaign had made no effort to hide his frustration over the refusal of Congress to pass a national energy bill.
Although Abraham, a former Michigan senator, received mixed reviews as a salesman for Bush's initiatives, some analysts said his role was overshadowed by Vice President Dick Cheney's direct involvement in formulating energy policy behind closed doors.
"He [Abraham] shepherded Bush's energy plan as well as he could," said Philip K. Verleger Jr., an energy economist at the Institute for International Economics in Washington. "Cheney set the energy policy. All he did was implement it. He was the functionary."
During his tenure at Energy, crude oil and gasoline prices soared, but Abraham declined repeated calls to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a way to ease price pressures. He took a personal interest in programs to safeguard nuclear materials and promote hydrogen-fuel vehicles.
Possible successors are said to include retiring Democratic Sen. John Breaux, a moderate from energy-rich Louisiana; Edison Electric Institute President Tom Kuhn, who was a Bush classmate at Yale, and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza, a former Texas energy regulator.
As agriculture secretary, Veneman, 55, led a sprawling agency with more than 100,000 employees and an annual budget exceeding $80 billion. The daughter of a California peach grower, she headed the California Department of Food and Agriculture from 1995 to 1999.
Veneman, a breast cancer survivor, was seen as an able farm trade negotiator and loyal promoter of the president's policies, and was widely praised for the administration's rapid response to the first reports of mad cow disease in the United States.
But she also drew criticism for her role in the development of massive farm subsidy legislation that has undermined U.S. credibility in global trade talks.
One potential Veneman successor is said to be Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-Texas), a moderate who lost his reelection bid this month after 13 terms in the House.
Other potential replacements include Agriculture Undersecretary Bill Hawks, U.S. agriculture trade negotiator Allen Johnson, White House agriculture advisor Chuck Conner, Agriculture Department conservation chief Bruce Knight, and Missouri Farm Bureau President Charles Kruze.
Paige, 71, is best known for his role in promoting the president's No Child Left Behind initiative, which imposed testing and accountability standards on elementary and middle schools.
A former superintendent of schools in Houston, Paige was the first African American to serve as the nation's top education official. He said he intended to return to Texas to devote attention to "a personal project" he did not identify.
A leading candidate to replace him is Bush's chief domestic policy advisor, Margaret Spellings, who played a prominent role in development of No Child Left Behind. Bush has said one of his top priorities for his second term is to expand the initiative to encompass the nation's high schools.