Interaction of Political and Career Leaders

Memo #2 of Administrative Leadership

Summary: Over the past several decades, the expanding role of political appointees, combined with their increasing numbers, has led to an underutilization of the career services. No matter how sound the policies or how skillful the political skills of a President, success will depend heavily on how well career executives implement his or her initiatives. The level of performance of these career leaders will depend on the extent to which department and agency heads understand their value and provide an environment that utilizes their potential contributions. An effective partnership between political and career leaders from the beginning of each new administration will do much to determine the success or failure of the President’s agenda. The policy roles of the political appointees and operational roles of the career leaders need to be clarified. These two groups are interdependent. Therefore, they need to join in close cooperation without losing accountability for their roles. The ability of career leaders to perform at their potential will be enhanced by increasing their developmental opportunities and reducing the number of lower level political appointees.

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Recommended Actions

1. Presidential Commission. A bipartisan commission should be appointed to review political appointee practices that contribute heavily to improved agency operations such as those that energize the career service, and those practices that impact operations negatively. It should review their political role only as it impacts agency operations, such as whether the increased number of appointees is resulting in career leaders being replaced by political appointees with less experience and knowledge of government operations as this author asserts.  Steps to enhance working relationships between top political appointees and SES leaders should be included.

2. Limit Political Appointments. A limit on the number of political appointees should be established by Congress, especially for Schedule C appointments. The Congressional limit on political appointments in the Senior Executive Service has little meaning if political appointees can be added through Schedule C appointments.

3. Development Program. To ensure development of career personnel capable of handling key operational roles, OPM should expedite a program to provide development opportunities for qualified career personnel from entry through the SES. Each deputy to a program assistant secretary or bureau chief should be drawn from the SES.

4. Mobility. The Partnership for Public Service has found that only 8% of SES executives have worked at more than one agency, and almost half have stayed in one position in their agencies. OMB and OPM should work together to facilitate greater mobility of senior executives among agencies. To ensure continuity, legislation is also recommended to mandate mobility opportunities for high performing personnel wishing to advance to top SES assignments, taking care to provide flexibility to adapt to agency needs and changing conditions.

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