Rebecca Blank to depart Commerce Department for university chancellor role

Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank will leave the department this summer to serve as the new chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Blank expects to start her new position at the university in July, but said in a message to Commerce employees that she has no plans to leave the department in the near term. Blank expects to welcome a new Commerce secretary before her departure.

"Let me hasten to say that I am not going anywhere in the near future. I look forward to continuing to work on the many good program and policy issues that are moving forward in all of the different Bureaus," Blank writes in the message. "I expect to welcome a new Secretary of Commerce before I leave."

Blank's departure comes as the Commerce Department has been without a permanent leader since former Secretary John Bryson resigned this past June due to medical reasons. The Commerce Department has so far been silent about who will step into Blank's role.

Republican members, including Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), have criticized the president for not filling the Cabinet seat.

A Commerce spokeswoman referred questions about Blank's replacement to the White House. The White House did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

President Obama has proposed to merge six commerce and trade agencies, including the Department of Commerce, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Small Business Administration. His proposal has not been well received by trade advocates.

Additionally, the president has yet to name a successor to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

Blank was tapped to serve as acting Commerce Secretary in August 2011 after former Commerce Secretary Gary Locke resigned to become the U.S. ambassador to China. She had served as Deputy Secretary of Commerce after Bryson was sworn into office in October 2011.

The president thanked Blank for her "hard work and exceptional service" in a statement on Monday and wished her luck in her new role.

"Over the past four years I have asked Becky to take on several roles at the Department of Commerce, and in each one she has distinguished herself as a steady leader and a vital member of my economic team," Obama said. "A tireless advocate for American businesses, Becky has helped to increase our competitiveness, support our innovators and entrepreneurs, and bring good-paying jobs back to our shores."

"I know the University of Wisconsin Badgers will have an outstanding chancellor for years to come," he continued. 

Vicki Needham contributed to this report