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Ziad Ojakli to become group vice president and concentrate on government relations

By Eric Mayne / The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co., moving to bolster its lobbying efforts in Washington, is expected to appoint Bush administration official Ziad Ojakli as group vice president in charge of government relations.

The announcement could come as early as today, people familiar with the situation said.

Ojakli is deputy assistant to President Bush for legislative affairs and will become the automaker’s point man in Washington.

Ford and other automakers lobby Congress on a number of fronts, including safety issues, fuel economy and foreign trade.

In the coming year, GM, Ford and Chrysler plan to make a major push in Washington to reform health care. Surging health care outlays have become a huge financial burden for the automakers as their work forces age and retiree ranks swell.

Ojakli represents the president and his agenda in the U.S. Senate.

With Ojakli’s appointment, Martin Zimmerman, Ford’s group vice president in charge of corporate affairs, will retire, the sources said.

Janet Mullins Grissom, vice president in charge of Washington affairs, also is expected to leave the company. Her departure will become effective in March.

Before joining the White House staff, Ojakli, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native, was Senate liaison for the Bush-Cheney transition team and congressional liaison for the 2000 Bush campaign.

He also served as chief of staff to the Senate Republican conference secretary, the late Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Ga.

Zimmerman, 57, was appointed group vice president in 2001 after serving as vice president of governmental affairs.

He joined Ford in 1987 as the company’s chief economist after serving as professor and chairman of the business economics department at the University of Michigan graduate school of business administration.

Mullins Grissom, 54, was appointed to her post in 1998. Before joining Ford as director of national affairs in 1995, she worked in the White House during the George H.W. Bush administration.

She began her governmental career as a legislative assistant in the U.S. Senate, and later was chief legislative strategist for Secretary of State James A. Baker III.
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