WASHINGTON (AP) _ The new national intelligence chief is still searching for a deputy after six candidates were either rejected by the White House or turned down the job, according to people familiar with discussions about the key slot.
The nearly yearlong vacancy has come up repeatedly in talks on Capitol Hill and in private discussions at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The new spy chief, Mike McConnell, has addressed the issue with his employees during at least one town-hall-style meeting at his Bolling Air Force Base headquarters.
Several people in and out government described the personnel struggle on condition they not be identified. As the White House has rejected candidates and time has stretched on, officials there have not indicated the vacancy is a priority, they said.
Chad Kolton, a spokesman for McConnell, said the director is committed to filling the opening soon.
``It is an absolutely vital intelligence community and intelligence reform position,'' Kolton said Thursday. ``But in addition to moving quickly, we want to make sure we find the right person for the job.''
Kolton said he didn't know how much longer it would take.
A spokesman for the White House's National Security Council, Gordon Johndroe, said he would not comment on personnel matters.
The No. 2 position _ officially the principal deputy director of national intelligence _ has been vacant since last May, when Gen. Michael Hayden became CIA director. Although an acting official assumed the responsibilities for seven months, his term expired in early January, leaving the post empty.
Despite the bureaucratic title, the position is considered a key post to help oversee the day-to-day operations of the 16 spy agencies, as well as coordinate with the White House, the National Security Council and other leading policy-makers.
While the full list of candidates is not known, it is said to include a number of veterans of the CIA: former National Counterterrorism Center Director John Brennan; Leo Hazlewood, now with Science Applications International Corp., a government consulting firm, and Charles Allen, the Homeland Security Department's chief intelligence officer.
Brennan has made waves by calling attention to the rocky start of intelligence reform efforts. Hazlewood, who has remained largely out of sight since leaving government in 2000, could cause controversy because both he and McConnell have deep roots in government contracting, at a time when some are questioning whether the intelligence community is outsourcing too much. And it wasn't clear whether Allen wanted the job.
Another name often mentioned is David Shedd, a former National Security Council official and McConnell's chief of staff. McConnell inherited Shedd from his predecessor, John Negroponte, and people following the deliberations said it wasn't clear whether McConnell recommended Shedd for the job.
In internal correspondence and congressional testimony, McConnell has made clear that filling the slot is a high priority. He hoped to have a nominee submitted for White House approval within 30 days of his Feb. 13 swearing-in.
Speaking to a conference of government professionals on Wednesday, McConnell pulled the curtain back on the demands of the job: The one-time head of the National Security Agency said he hadn't expected his day to start at 4 a.m. at least six days a week.
``So far, I am discovering that the things that I wanted to focus on occupy my time until somewhere around 10 or 11 at night,'' he said. ``My biggest challenge early is just stamina.''
McConnell's office was created in Congress' December 2004 intelligence reform law as a way of improving how the CIA, NSA, FBI and other agencies work together. McConnell took over as Congress members and other intelligence observers questioned whether the organization has simply turned into stumbling bureaucracy.
Intelligence officials across government, Senate Intelligence Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and other members of Congress have been pressing for details about when McConnell will get a deputy _ a position that requires a presidential nomination and Senate confirmation.
During one January hearing, Rockefeller questioned why months have gone by. ``Those were very, very important times at which Iran and all kinds of things reared their head,'' he said.
At his confirmation hearing the next month, McConnell acknowledged that he would have two nearly full-time jobs: being the principal intelligence adviser to the president and running the intelligence community.
``I will push as hard as I can to find the right person to fill that spot, and I hope to do it as quickly as possible,'' he said.