In July, 1999, Nancy Ann Min DeParle was pregnant with her first child and needed to take a maternity leave from her duties as chief administrator for Medicare and Medicaid. But, as the Washington Post reported at the time:

the mechanics of arranging such time away from the job are not simple. Although other federal workers are entitled to certain benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act, there are no built-in rules to guide time off by presidential appointees who are confirmed by the Senate. Nor are those high-ranking officials permitted to accrue the sick leave and vacation time that most career federal employees use to cover their absences from work.

DeParle had apparently accumulated enough time in her previous job, at OMB, to qualify for leave. But the rules also barred her from tapping that time in her new post. One issue, I'm told, was a requirement that officials subject to Senate confirmation must be available at all times--something that obviously wasn't possible for a woman about to give birth.

In the end, DeParle got together with her boss, then-Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala. They worked out arrangements for DeParle to hand temporary authority over to her deputy, then brought the plan to Capitol Hill to see whether congressional overseers would have a problem with it. They didn't. DeParle went on to take her leave and have a son, noting that "he'll be a Medicare beneficiary in 2064."

No word on whether institutional changes, creating maternity leave policies for high (i.e., Senate confirmed) officials, were made. But since this likely won't be the last time such a situation arises, they should be.

--Jonathan Cohn