Reducing the Number of Political Appointees

Memo #3 of Administrative Leadership

Summary: Presidents understandably want to fill political positions in the executive branch with those who have worked for them and who share their political and policy priorities. But with three to four thousand appointments to make, the quality of appointees, especially at lower levels, necessarily suffers. Political appointees at top policy-making positions are central to Presidential leadership, but the key program and agency management positions require experienced managers who know those programs well. Thus we recommend the reduction of the total number of political appointees in order to allow Presidents to focus on those most important to policy leadership. In addition, freeing up positions at the management level will improve career opportunities for the best career executives and encourage them to continue in the public service.

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Recommended Actions

Congress and the President should seriously consider making cuts in the following areas

1. Presidents should aim to reduce the number of Senate-confirmed positions in management positions and part-time, commission, and advisory posts. Management positions are ideally suited for experienced persons concerned with long term planning and the agency’s health.  Presidents could fill these posts with career members of the Senior Executive Service whose long experience in the federal government would be valuable but over whom the President still retains substantial control. Cuts in part-time, commission, and advisory posts (which often require Senate confirmation) would not directly help performance in the larger agencies but cutting such positions would make the personnel task easier for the PPO and reduce the burden on the Senate to let both parties focus on the nominees for the key policymaking positions.

2. Efforts to cut appointees of all types should focus on the program or bureau level. The best empirical evidence suggests that career managers perform more effectively than political appointees at this level of management. David Lewis has compared PART scores (2004-08) of agencies headed by political appointees and career executives. He found that programs administered by career executives systematically performed better than those headed by political appointees. Placing career executives in program management roles will induce career executives to stay and build careers in the federal service without sacrificing political accountability.  Presidential appointees at the head of agencies and bureaus will continue to oversee the careerist managers of federal programs.

3. Schedule C positions should be reduced. Schedule C positions are for persons serving in policy and supporting positions but usually in a staff role. Persons appointed in these positions have little formal authority, but can accrue substantial informal authority. Some of the difficulties in the past administration with appointees stemmed from personnel in Schedule C positions. Comparable positions to those filled by appointees in Schedule C positions are filled by careerists in different agencies with little apparent sacrifice in responsiveness.

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