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Industry Waits on Obama Picks for Key Posts

Sources said Dawn O’Connell has emerged as a leading candidate for the special textile negotiator position at USTR.

WASHINGTON — Three months into its first term, the Obama administration has not filled two key posts important to the apparel and textile industries.

Some names have started to surface, however, for the posts of special textile negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the deputy assistant secretary for textiles and apparel with the Commerce Department, who serves double duty as the chair of the interagency Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements.

Industry sources said Dawn O’Connell, chief of staff for House Textile Caucus co-chair Rep. John Spratt (D., S.C.), has emerged as a leading candidate for the special textile negotiator position at USTR. O’Connell served as Spratt’s legislative director prior to her current position. A call to O’Connell was not returned.

“She’d be an excellent choice,” said one industry source. “The industry would be very pleased with her.”

The special textile negotiator position has historically been considered the “chief textile negotiator.” At one time, the position was at an ambassadorial level, but it was downgraded early in the Bush administration.

Gail Strickler, associate director for Philadelphia University’s Institute for Textile & Apparel Product Safety and a member of the Cotton Board, has thrown her hat in the ring for the Commerce position, which oversees the Office of Textiles & Apparel, and CITA job, sources said. She is well known in the industry from her time with the Textile Distributors Association, which shut down in 2007, and as the former owner of Saxon Textiles. Strickler could not be reached for comment. Industry sources indicated she would be an experienced and well-received choice.

Kim Glas, legislative director for Rep. Michael Michaud (D., Maine), also expressed interest in the position with the Commerce Department, according to sources. A call to Glas was not returned. Glas is considered more of an unknown entity in industry circles.

The deputy assistant secretary for textiles and apparel oversees Commerce Department efforts to promote the domestic industry, and helps importers and retailers with issues that impact them. The individual in that position also chairs CITA, the interagency group responsible for factors that impact textile trade policy and for overseeing the implementation of textile trade agreements. CITA also includes members from the State, Labor and Treasury Departments and USTR.

“These are two critical positions from an industry perspective,” Auggie Tantillo, president of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, said of the two open positions. “It is critical that those two individuals have a deep understanding of the industry and the policy issues that confront the industry.”

Steven Lamar, executive vice president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said, “These positions are on the front line of implementation of specific details of some trade programs. There is a school of thought that questions whether they are both needed given the elimination of the quota program and the integration of textiles and apparel into the general trade rules.”

The Obama administration has not given any indication it is reevaluating these positions. The USTR office declined comment and Commerce did not respond to requests for comment. Candidates for these positions in the past have been drawn from Capitol Hill and inside the industry, sources noted.

“It would be very helpful to have someone in these positions with experience in the industry or with working closely with the industry,” said Julia Hughes, senior vice president for international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel.