HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson submitted his resignation to President Bush and was expected to formally announce his departure at a news conference later today. Likely candidates as his successor include CMS Administrator Mark McClellan, a physician who previously led the Food and Drug Administration, and HHS Deputy Secretary Claude Allen. Thompson, 63, a former four-term Wisconsin governor with more than three decades of public service, is the eighth Bush cabinet member to resign from the 15-member cabinet since the president won re-election. Thompson ran the giant HHS bureaucracy for nearly four years, overseeing 60,000 employees and an annual budget of more than $500 billion. In his letter to the president, Thompson said he would serve until Feb. 4 or until a successor is confirmed.
In a letter to employees obtained by Modern Healthcare, Thompson said, "It was a difficult decision and one I did not make easily. But after nearly 40 years in public service, it is time for me and my family to move on to the next chapter in our life." Although his resignation has been speculated on for the past few months and despite earlier statements that he wanted to serve as HHS secretary for only one term, Thompson has consistently refused to divulge his plans. One recent rumor featured in a Wisconsin newspaper had Thompson, a lawyer, joining 14-hospital Aurora Health Care, Milwaukee. An Aurora spokesman said there was no job offer at this time. -- by Michael Romano