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Obama's new Cabinet: Who's in, who's out, and who's in the running

With the congressional storm over debt and spending temporarily calmed after the fiscal cliff fight, the political world's attention now turns to the administration's shuffling of top agency jobs at the start of President Barack Obama's second term.

The president's cabinet includes 15 heads of federal departments, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. As Obama’s first term comes to an end, there remains plenty of uncertainty about as to the status of much of the cabinet, including some of the top positions in the government.  Here’s what we know so far: 

Secretary of State: Obama has already announced Sen. John Kerry as his pick to succeed departing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, choosing the Foreign Relations Committee head after his other reported top choice, Susan Rice, withdrew from consideration for the post. Kerry is expected to be confirmed easily by his Senate colleagues.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

President Barack Obama announces the nomination of Sen. John Kerry as Secretary of State to succeed Hillary Clinton, at the White House in Washington Dec. 21, 2012.

Secretary of Defense: An administration official has confirmed to NBC's Chuck Todd that President Obama plans to nominate former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican and Vietnam veteran, for the Defense secretary position on Monday. Hagel would replace Leon Panetta at the helm of Defense Department.

The Nebraska lawmaker faces significant opposition from some in his own party who are wary of Hagel's past statements about Israel. Hagel was also forced to issue an apology after foes resurfaced a 1998 comment in which Hagel criticized an "aggressively gay" political appointee.

In an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” last week, Obama praised Hagel but said he has not made a final decision about who he wants for the top Pentagon job. 

"I haven't made a decision about who to nominate," Obama said. "And my number one criteria will be who's going to do the best job in helping to secure America."

If nominated, Hagel would be boosted by two heavyweights other than the president: Vice President Joe Biden and Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed. 

Other possibilities reportedly discussed for the post were Former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, or Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

With the fiscal cliff crisis barely in the rear view mirror, the White House's likely decision to pick former Sen. Chuck Hagel for the defense secretary position is likely to ignite a contentious confirmation battle. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.

Treasury Secretary: Current Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, the final remaining member of Obama's original economic team, has signaled that he will step down after the inauguration, which could leave the department without a confirmed chief during the coming showdown over the debt ceiling. White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, a former director of the Office of Management and Budget, is considered to be Geithner's likely successor.

But as NBC's Political Unit notes, the White House may think twice about handling a confirmation process at the same time as yet another round of brinkmanship over the government's legal borrowing power.

Jason Reed / Reuters

President Barack Obama walks off stage with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner after speaking about his meeting on infrastructure investment, in the Rose Garden of the White House in this Oct. 11, 2010 file photo.

CIA Director: While not technically a Cabinet position, also in the mix will be a new intelligence guru to replace former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus, who resigned after admitting to an extramarital affair with his biographer.

In the running for that job are John Brennan, an influential White House adviser on counter-terrorism, as well as acting CIA Director Michael Morrell.

Other Cabinet positions:  Along with the candidates for those high-ranking positions, there will likely be other openings throughout the administration, with possible departures from other agencies including the Energy and Commerce departments.

If Interior Department head Ken Salazar chooses to leave, former Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, retiring Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington, and outgoing Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire are on the shortlist to replace him,  according to a Democratic insider.

Environmental Protection Agency head Lisa Jackson has also announced her departure at the end of January, setting up an open position at an organization frequently targeted by Republican foes of federal regulations. (The EPA chief job is not among the 15 official Cabinet positions but is awarded the status of "cabinet rank.")

When President Barack Obama returns to Washington this weekend, he will still have two big cabinet posts to fill and the current favorite for Secretary of Defense – Chuck Hagel – is taking heat on a range of issues. Obama 2012 traveling press secretary Jen Pskai and former RNC Chairman Michael Steele discuss.