Kerry's nomination marks Obama's first move in a sweeping overhaul of his national security team heading into a second term.
If confirmed, Kerry will take the helm at the State Department from outgoing Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Massachusetts senator is expected to be easily approved for the Cabinet post by his longtime Capitol Hill colleagues.
Kerry leapt to the front of Obama's list for the State Department job after U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration last week.
The official requested anonymity in order to discuss the announcement ahead of Obama.