AUSTIN, Texas - President-elect Bush has assembled about half of his Cabinet despite a transition period cut short by the recount deadlock.
Bush is comfortable enough with his progress that he is taking what aides say is a ''non-working'' Christmas vacation, unwinding Saturday at his Texas ranch before joining relatives for a few days of post-holiday fishing in Florida.
Federal law envisions 14 Cabinet secretaries, and Bush officially filled six of the slots in little more than a week after Democrat Al Gore conceded the presidency. A seventh Cabinet spot is all but announced.
In addition, each president may designate any number of other agencies or offices as ''Cabinet-level.'' President Clinton added 10 to his Cabinet.
It's unclear whether Bush will follow suit. But he has filled three of those jobs, and said one - the Environmental Protection Agency chief - will remain in the Cabinet.
Bush's progress is far slower than Clinton's was after his election in 1992, when his core Cabinet was in place by Christmas, along with a battery of other top administration officials.
But Clinton wasn't hampered by a five-week, postelection stalemate.
''I think it's remarkable'' how swiftly Bush is moving, said Fred Greenstein, a Princeton University professor of politics and author of a book on presidential leadership. ''This guy does present the portrait of someone who finds it easy to make decisions.''
But Bush's selection process is now certain to decelerate. Aides have said they expect no announcements until after he leaves Florida next Thursday.
Much of his team is getting its first break since the long campaign and the exhausting Florida recount battle. Some are house-hunting in Washington.
Moreover, building the second part of the Cabinet may be more difficult.
The first half came relatively easily, starting with Bush's first nomination - Colin Powell for secretary of state. Bush for months had signaled his intention to name Powell.
Other picks were close friends and advisers, such as campaign chairman Don Evans for commerce secretary. Some were stalwart campaign supporters with lengthy resumes, such as Agriculture secretary-designee Ann Veneman.
Now Bush's task becomes more delicate.
As his Cabinet takes shape, interest groups are scrutinizing it for signs of Bush's direction.
Late last week, conservatives grew restive when they suspected Bush was stocking his Cabinet with political moderates. ''The trust is growing thin'' with Bush, evangelist Pat Robertson said on his TV show Thursday night.
The next day, when Bush nominated deeply conservative Sen. John Ashcroft as attorney general, there was an outcry from liberals.
''Any pretense of unifying the nation has ended with this nomination,'' said Julian Bond, NAACP board chairman. ''This confirms the correctness of blacks voting 9-to-1 against Governor Bush.''
Others will be watching to see whether Bush delivers on his promise to build a government of ''inclusion.'' Of Bush's seven announced Cabinet members - six permanent slots, plus EPA - five are white, one is Hispanic and one is black. Two are women.
Bush's search for one crucial Cabinet member, defense secretary, has become bogged down by his own dissatisfaction with the candidates. He has told aides he needs more time to consider his options.
Former Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., remains a leading candidate. Other possibilities include Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Armitage, both of whom worked for Vice President-elect Dick Cheney when he was defense secretary.
The six Cabinet members named so far by Bush are: Veneman for agriculture secretary; Ashcroft for attorney general; Evans for commerce; Mel Martinez for housing and urban development; Colin Powell for secretary of state and Paul O'Neill for treasury.
New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman was nominated to run the EPA, which Bush said will remain a Cabinet-level post, and Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson has accepted Bush's offer to become health and human services secretary, GOP sources said.
Cabinet slots that remain to be filled are defense, education, energy, interior, labor, transportation and veterans affairs.