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Murray Holds Up Bush’s OMB Nominee

The prospect of Senate confirmation has grown considerably more ambiguous for Clay Johnson, a close friend of President Bush’s who has been nominated for the deputy director’s job at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

No sooner had Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) released his hold on the nominee than Johnson ran into a new barrier in Sen. Patty Murray (D). In a brief interview Tuesday, the Washington lawmaker acknowledged that she has placed a new hold on Johnson’s confirmation in order to get $58 million in funding for port security from the Department of Homeland Security.

“I will keep the hold until Homeland Security releases this funding,” Murray said.

Murray’s opposition is only the latest obstruction placed before Johnson’s nomination. But it has fed considerable speculation on Capitol Hill that Democrats may be using the nominee, on account of his close relationship with Bush, to gain leverage in policy battles with the White House.

[IMGCAP(1)] In that case, Johnson’s effort to win confirmation could plod on indefinitely.

At the very least, Murray’s hold moves the dispute beyond parochial questions about the role that Johnson, who previously served as director of the White House’s Office of Personnel Management, played in steps by the Bush administration toward a policy of out-sourcing some government functions to private firms.

That prospect has been strongly opposed by organized labor and served as the rationale for Byrd’s hold on Johnson’s nomination.

There is no discernable link, however, between Johnson and the Homeland Security matter.

Murray’s fight with DHS concerns a planned diversion of funds from Operation Safe Commerce, a program intended to improve security at major ports, including Seattle-Tacoma. The Transportation Security Administration has indicated that it will reroute $28 million from the program to pay for explosives-screening technology at airports.

Calls to DHS and its transportation security section on Wednesday were not returned.

OMB spokesman Trent Duffy refused to comment on Murray’s hold, which was reported first in The Columbian, a newspaper in Vancouver, Wash.

Duffy cited White House policy that forbids officials from commenting on pending nominations.