It's starting to seem like everyone is leaving President Obama's administration at the start of his second term. Secretaries Clinton, Geithner, and Solis are out. Salazar, Chu, LaHood, and Panetta are heading toward the door as well — that is, if confirmations for their replacements go according to plan. For more detail on the Cabinet shuffle, read Catherine Hollander's comprehensive rundown here.
It's a significant amount of turnover for the administration, but is it unprecedented? Not really.
Over the summer, Eric Ostermeier, a political-science researcher and a writer of the blog Smart Politics, compiled this nice chart comparing the attrition rates by administration since 1933. Obama's numbers are strictly from his first term. (Note:The data in this chart only take into account official Cabinet positions, not Cabinet-level positions such as chief of staff.)
The average rate of departure for an administration is .56--which translates to about half the Cabinet turning over.
Using the intense mathematical formula of Number of Projected Departures Ã· Number of Cabinet Positions, National Journal has arrived at a projection of President Obama's second-term attrition rate.
It is .46 — a tie with Ronald Reagan's first administration, and very close to the average. According to Ostermeier's numbers, this is actually below the average rate of second terms (which is .74). For comparison, Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, had a second term attrition rate of 1. The only Cabinet member who lasted all eight years in the Bush White House was Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. The highest attrition rate belongs to Harry Truman, who replaced all of the Cabinet holdovers from the Roosevelt administration (in a few instances, more than once).
Obama's Cabinet appointments have been getting a lot of attention because they have been high profile, or surrounded by scandal. One of Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton's final acts in her role was a daylong testimony on the Benghazi consulate attack. Republican senators expressed doubt about Chuck Hagel before his confirmation hearing, and his performance only hightened their concerns. And while CIA Director David Petraeus wasn't a Cabinet member, he went out in one of the high-profile sex scandals in we've seen in some time.
Keep in mind, it is possible for Obama's second-term attrition rate to increase over the next four years. Until then, we'll have to watch and wait for retirements or scandal.