Locke was the nation's first Chinese-American governor when he served two terms in the Washington statehouse from 1997 to 2005.
Obama's expected choice of Locke arose less than two weeks after his most recent pick, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, backed out. Just over a week after Obama named him and he accepted, Gregg cited "irresolvable conflicts" with the policies of the Democratic president.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement has not yet been made.
Obama originally gave the post, which requires Senate confirmation, to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. He withdrew in January, before Obama took office, after the disclosure that a grand jury is investigating allegations of wrongdoing in the awarding of contracts in his state.
The Commerce post is typically not one of the more high-profile jobs in any administration. The head of the department oversees agencies responsible for the once-a-decade census, for oceans policy and for many aspects of international trade, among other things.
The administration recently took steps to assert greater White House control over the census. The outcome of the census has deep political implications, since congressional districts are drawn on the basis of population.
But in Obama's administration, the delay in getting a Commerce secretary has been top news in large part because it has been accompanied by other Cabinet troubles. He still does not have a Health and Human Services secretary, either. Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination for that post amid a tax controversy.
The loss of Gregg for the Commerce job also highlighted the difficulty Obama has had reaching out to Republicans. Gregg would have been one of three Republicans Obama had put in his Cabinet to emphasize his campaign pledge that he would be an agent of bipartisan change. Despite those and other efforts, Obama drew hardly any GOP support for his main legislative priority, the stimulus package.
Locke, 59, was born into an immigrant family and lived in a Seattle public housing project until he was 6. He graduated from Yale University, which he attended with a combination of scholarships and financial aid, and Boston University Law School.
He lists among his accomplishments as governor a package of tax breaks that persuaded The Boeing Co. to assemble its new 787 jetliner in Everett, north of Seattle, and expanded transportation and construction budgets.
Since leaving office he's been working for the Seattle-based law firm Davis Wright Tremaine on issues involving China, energy and governmental relations. He argues that global engagement is a way to improve China's human rights record and deal with piracy of intellectual property.
Locke is married to Mona Lee Locke, a former television news reporter who is now executive director of the regional affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, a breast cancer research and advocacy organization. They have three children.