WASHINGTON - White House communications director Ellen Moran is stepping down to be chief of staff to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, becoming the first senior adviser to President Barack Obama to leave the West Wing.
The move, just three months into the new presidency, will take place over the next few weeks.
"It has been a real honor to serve in this White House at the start of this historic administration. I am looking forward to working on critical economic issues with Secretary Locke," Moran said Tuesday.
She met with Locke twice in recent weeks, and said she decided that the job was a better fit for her professionally and personally in the long run. She and her husband have a daughter and a son both under age 4.
In a statement, Obama said: "I thank Ellen Moran for her leadership during these first critical months of my administration, and I am pleased she will serve as chief of staff at the Department of Commerce. Her management and strategic skills will ensure that Secretary Locke, an important member of my economic team, gets off to a fast start."
Moran made the decision late Monday and has informed Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel of her intentions but has not yet submitted a formal resignation. She is one of only a few senior White House advisers who did not have a role in Obama's campaign and who was not one of his longtime close confidants before he was president.
Top Obama advisers praised her for a job well done and disputed any notion that there was more to her departure.
"This is a perfect for the White House, a perfect fit for Locke and a perfect fit for her family," Emanuel said, praising Moran's work as communications director. "She literally got us stood up and operable in this 100-day sprint and as we get Locke fully integrated into the economic team and the White House, it's going to be great to have her over there."
Added White House senior adviser David Axelrod: "Ellen's a great manager with good political sensibilities and a real knowledge of this town. We had a number of false starts on the Commerce job and Locke's getting a late start. As able as he is, he's new to the town and we needed someone who could go in there and manage with a real knowledge of Washington."
Locke, a former Washington governor, was Obama's third choice for the post. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, withdrew amid an investigation into the awarding of contracts in his state, while New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, a Republican, pulled his nomination after a change of heart about serving in the Democratic president's Cabinet.
Moran was hired in November after Obama won the election, and spent the transition period setting up the White House communications shop before officially assuming the job on Jan. 20.
Once Moran moves over to Commerce, White House aides say she is expected to remain a part of the White House's strategy team, in close contact with Axelrod.
There's no indication yet who will take over her responsibilities, but Obama has several communications veterans in his inner circle.
Moran, 42, has played a major role in crafting media events and amplifying the White House's message on every aspect of Obama's agenda, including the roll out of his budget proposal. Her duties include overseeing the new media and media affairs teams as well as the White House Web site, surrogate operations and event planning.
Before going to the White House, Moran was executive director of the Washington group EMILY's List, which backs female candidates who support abortion rights and backed Hillary Rodham Clinton during last year's Democratic presidential primary. Moran previously worked for the AFL-CIO and directed an independent media campaign for the Democratic National Committee in 2004.