Commerce Secretary John Bryson, accused of a felony hit-and-run over the weekend in a series of Southern California traffic accidents, announced late Monday that he would take a leave of absence and address what he claims are medical problems that led to the crash.
“I notified President Obama this evening that effective immediately I am taking a medical leave of absence so I can focus all of my attention on resolving the health issues that arose over the weekend,” Bryson wrote. He said his second in command, Rebecca Blank, would be the acting secretary in his absence. Blank has already served in that capacity, filling in after former secretary Gary Locke left to be ambassador to China.
Bryson did not say more about the nature of his health issues. Neither did the White House, which said that “President Obama’s thoughts are with Secretary Bryson and his family during this time.”
Bryson got into three accidents, including hitting one car twice, on Saturday evening in the San Gabriel Valley. The final accident came after he tried to flee the scene. A Commerce Department spokeswoman said that Bryson suffered a seizure during the accidents, and that alcohol or drugs was not found in Bryson’s system. That was confirmed by the local sheriff on Monday.
This is basically the first time the Commerce Department has made news since the announcement of Bryson’s nomination, and perhaps his confirmation. The department really doesn’t have a functional reason to exist other than the fact it houses two important agencies, the Census and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that don’t seem to belong there. The President has proposed a realignment that would split out some business and trade arms of the Commerce Department, and add several business and trade-based agencies into it (like the Small Business Association and the Office of the US Trade Representative). NOAA would move to the Department of the Interior, and the Census would join with other statistical groups to become one of the four pillars of this new Commerce-like Department (along with trade, small business, and innovation). There’s been virtually no movement on this since it was announced in early 2012.
So for now, Rebecca Blank takes over an unusual appendage of an agency, which only gets publicity when its leader runs into a car on the highway.