The job certainly has its upside. The director of the Central Intelligence Agency knows the world's biggest secrets; visits kings, princes, and presidents - usually during the dark of night in mysterious places; travels with a contingent of heavily armed guards; and oh, yes, meets nearly every day with the president.
But power and intrigue aside, it may be difficult to fill the spacious seventh-floor office with sweeping views of wooded northern Virginia left vacant by George Tenet this week.
For one thing, there is the overwhelming challenge of overhauling a $40 billion, broken intelligence community. The lapses have been thoroughly exposed by the Senate and a national commission looking at what the intelligence community knew before the war in Iraq and the 9/11 attacks.
Then, this is a highly contentious political season in which it will be very difficult for the president to push a perceived partisan nominee through the Senate.
Still, most experts say that it's crucial to have a strong leader - especially since government officials and outside experts predict Al Qaeda plans to strike the US prior to the November election. But it is also important to appoint a strong manager who can begin to fix those problems laid bare by the reports and to adapt the outdated cold-war system to the myriad new forces that now threaten world security - armed terror groups, militias, and insurgencies.
"It's going to have to be someone who is not out of the community," says Richard Shultz, director of security studies at Tufts University's Fletcher School in Medford, Mass. "Someone who has a good understanding of not just these reports, but an understanding that the kinds of threats and challenges we face necessitate big changes in the way we collect, analyze, and conduct operations."
The good news is that both Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate are calling on the president to name a new director and say there is bipartisan support for several candidates. The bad news is that it may be a temporary appointment, depending on the November election outcome and the person who is appointed.
Moreover, it will be difficult to get off to a quick start without knowing how the administration plans to reform the entire community. For example, the 9/11 commission has signaled it plans to call for sweeping reform in its final report next week. One of the most controversial is the appointment of a national director of intelligence, a cabinet-level position, to fully rein in all 15 intelligence agencies.
The director of central intelligence currently leads the CIA and nominally leads the other 14 intelligence agencies; he doesn't control their budgets. Some 80 percent of the $40 billion intelligence budget is controlled by the Department of Defense.
Still, government officials and outside experts are putting forward several names for the job. Among them:
Richard Armitage: A graduate of the US Naval Academy, he currently serves as deputy secretary of State, No. 2 to Colin Powell. He is widely admired for his depth in military and intelligence, especially in the Far East, Middle East, and Southeast Asia. He's served in a number of government positions, mainly in Republican administrations. Mr. Armitage is considered frontrunner in that he wouldn't have to endure a Senate confirmation process.
"The president could put him over there without having to go through Congress right away since he's already been confirmed by the Senate in his position at State," says Charles Battaglia, former staff director for the Senate Intelligence Committee. "Then, once the election is over, he could formally send his name up."
Sam Nunn: The former Democratic senator from Georgia is also a bipartisan favorite. He certainly knows national security issues. During his Senate tenure, he chaired the Armed Services Committee and served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
John Lehman: He is currently serving on the national 9/11 commission and is a former secretary of the Navy. During his tenure there, he was known for thinking "outside the box" and instigating change.
Porter Goss: As a Republican representative from Florida, he is a vocal participant on the House Intelligence Committee. He also is a former member of the CIA's clandestine service. He was considered a front-runner until recently, when Democrats signaled they will not go for a "partisan" nominee.
Robert Mueller: If the president opts for a national intelligence director, Mr. Mueller, current director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is considered by many a front-runner. He has won kudos from a broad spectrum of intelligence and management specialists for the role he's played in reforming the FBI. Many think he could do the same for the entire intelligence community.
"We need a vigorous hand to reassert the standards intrinsic to the place - someone who's not there to tell people what they want to hear, but tell them what they think is right," says Stansfield Turner, former director of the CIA.