Amid the exodus from the Bush administration, HHS Tommy Thompson may be flip-flopping on an earlier decision to leave the agency.
For more than a year, Thompson, 63, has said that he wants to take a break from government and work in the private sector. In addition to four years at HHS, Thompson spent 14 years as governor of Wisconsin. But the secretary is apparently reconsidering his options and though many in Washington still expect him to join the rank of departing agency heads, Thompson is at least leaving open the possibility that he will remain in Bush's Cabinet.
Thompson has been mum on the subject, saying only that he will meet with the president to discuss his future.
"Clearly, this will be left up to the president," Thompson told reporters earlier this month.
Departures are common for a presi- dent's second go-round and so far among those who have officially resigned are Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham.
There has been talk of Transportation Secretary Norman Mi-neta leaving his post, opening up the possibility that Thompson could step into the job that he originally wanted when he joined the Bush administration.
The watch for a possible new HHS secretary began in December 2003 when Thompson said that he would likely leave after the November elections and would not stay on to oversee the rollout of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which won't fully take effect until January 2006. At the time he said also he wanted to try his hand outside of government but would eventually run for office again in Wisconsin.
Most of the speculation of a possible successor to Thompson, if he leaves, has focused on CMS Administratior Mark McClellan. Though he's been administrator for less than one year, the 41-year-old is highly regarded by the Bush administration, having been the Food and Drug Administration commissioner and a health policy aide to the president before replacing former CMS Administrator Tom Scully. His brother Scott is White House press secretary.
For his part, McClellan has been evasive during the past year about the possibiliy of replacing Thompson, saying only he is concentrating on his current job.
But one Washington insider says that the job may go to either a past or present senator or governor.