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Better Oil the Revolving Door

Here’s a quick Potomac trivia question: How many secretaries of health, education and welfare and health and human services have there been since the department was established on April 11, 1953? The answer is 15. The 16th would be former Indiana Gov. Otis R. Bowen, nominated Thursday by President Reagan to take over the government’s largest domestic department and possibly the most difficult to manage.

Anyone who could name all 15 HEW / HHS secretaries most certainly could claim some sort of trivia championship or be sent to the nearest psychiatrist for examination. For the record, as provided by the HHS press office, they were Oveta Culp Hobby, Marion B. Folsom, Arthur S. Flemming, Abraham Ribicoff, Anthony J. Celebrezze, John W. Gardner, Wilbur J. Cohen, Robert H. Finch, Elliot L. Richardson, Casper W. Weinberger, David Matthews, Joseph A. Califano, Patricia Roberts Harris, Richard S. Schweiker and Margaret M. Heckler.

Since 1953 there has been an average of two secretaries per President. Since 1789 there have been 40 Presidents and, for comparison’s sake, 60 secretaries of state.

There is no point in judging Bowen’s qualifications for the job at this point, since even the most experienced Washington administrators have had problems with the agency. We’ll just wish him well.

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