Administrative Leadership

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Memo Overview:

A President is elected every four years, but he or she does not run the government alone. Thousands of political appointees must be appointed to lead the departments and agencies of the executive branch. These appointments depend on an elaborate process of recruitment, confirmation, mastering their offices, and working with career executives to implement the president’s priorities and execute the law. But the political appointee system that developed over the course of the 20th century is broken in several important ways.

From 1984 to 1999 only 15% of the top appointees of the new President were in place within two months of inauguration. In the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, about 50% of the top 75 national security appointments remained vacant on May 1, and 85% of the top sub-cabinet positions in legislative, legal, management, and budget officials remained empty. These months are of crucial importance for formulating and launching presidential initiatives at the beginning of a term.

Causes for these delays in filling positions, include inadequate pre-election planning, inadequate human resources devoted to personnel, slow recruitment and vetting, multiple information forms to be filled out by candidates, and the flood of applications for jobs after each election. Once filled, these positions often empty out before the end of a President’s term, leading to agency inaction, confusion of civil servants, and lack of accountability. In addition, the expanding role of political appointees, combined with their increasing numbers, has led to the underutilization of the career services, with serious program delivery consequences.

The memos below make a number of recommendations to alleviate the above problems. If the President and Congress put these recommendations in place, we will see significant improvements in the management of the government and the delivery of services to the American people.

These memos were jointly authored by: James Pfiffner, Dwight Ink, David Lewis, and Anne O'Connell.


1. Recruiting Political Appointees

2. Interaction of Political and Career Leaders

3. Reducing the Number of Political Appointees

4. Decreasing Agency Vacancies

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