By Cora Daniels

(FORTUNE Magazine) – DINA POWELL HAS THOUSANDS OF "babies" in the Bush administration.

That is what she calls her hires, "my babies," as she exclaims with pride in her office in the West Wing. Powell heads the Office of Presidential Personnel, meaning she is, in effect, the President's personal headhunter. Powell's office fills the more than 4,000 presidential appointments, including several hundred that need Senate confirmation. And as during any new term, this is the busy season: "It's a lot of work," admits the impeccably composed Powell, who doesn't show a hint of tiredness.

Reagan's well-known personnel director, Pendleton James, once likened the Presidential Personnel post to "trying to drink from a fire hydrant." The analogy holds. Powell is the one folks tap on the shoulder expecting jobs after Election Day. She is the one who is bombarded by enthusiasts willing to do anything (her office has already gotten more than 100,000 unsolicited résumés since the election). "These are some of the most important decisions that take place in Washington," says G. Calvin Mackenzie, presidential historian at Colby College, who has written several books on the Presidential Personnel Office. "Who you get into government is what we the people will get out of government."

At age 31, Powell (who joined the Personnel office when Bush was elected and was promoted to run it in 2001) is the youngest person to ever hold the job. Born in Cairo and fluent in Arabic, she immigrated to Dallas with her parents when she was 4. To put herself through school at the University of Texas, she worked for the state legislature, mostly doing administrative tasks. She became a fan of Governor Bush's and after graduation headed to D.C. There she held various posts in Republican circles, including one as a senior advisor to the RNC chairman, before joining the White House.

In her current role Powell is part personnel geek and part administration cheerleader. "The best recruitment asset I have is President Bush himself," she says. But the truth is, her job often takes a surprising amount of persuading. "CEOs don't need another job--they can retire into happiness," Powell admits. There are hundreds of pages of prying paperwork, and nominees are often asked to divest their stock portfolios. Despite heavy interest from the White House, many, like Dawn Lepore, CEO of Drugstore.com, pass because they don't want to give up time with their families.

But Powell says that 9/11 has been a powerful motivator, with some executives admitting they are willing to take any post the President offers because in these times they feel an obligation to serve. Bill Donaldson agreed to chair the SEC because he felt strongly about securing the markets. Kellogg CEO Carlos Gutierrez, the recent Secretary of Commerce nominee, was shocked and honored to get the unexpected call from the White House.

Indeed, more so than her predecessors, Powell is plugged into the business world (Bush tends to favor business candidates because they are accustomed to being measured by results). She's tapped dozens of leaders for part-time posts: Dick Parsons, CEO of FORTUNE's parent company, Time Warner, sits on the Social Security Commission; HP's Carly Fiorina is on the President's Commission for Space Exploration; and eBay CEO Meg Whitman and IBM CEO Sam Palmisano are on the advisory committee for trade policy.

President Bush has taken a particular interest in the appointments process, meeting with Powell and her staff regularly to discuss posts at all levels. Discretion is clearly a big part of Powell's job. She rarely talks to the media, and during her chat with FORTUNE she would give absolutely no details about recent searches. People in the search world, however, credit her for turning the office into a much more professional recruiting agency (she recently hired Liza Wright from Heidrick & Struggles) and for making creative recommendations. Linnet Deily (former vice chairman of Charles Schwab and now deputy U.S. Trade Representative) says, "It is a perfect fit for me--my ideal job, but it was really Dina's idea." Of course, every potential hire gets the same fair warning. "When I try to recruit people, I tell them, Don't say yes just for altruistic reasons," says Powell. "It is still a job. And you are the person who is going to have to wake up every morning and do it." -- Cora Daniels