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Tips on Presidential Appointments

By Ed O'Keefe

As observers and presidential transition veterans can attest, Inauguration Day marks an important and highly visible transfer of power, but does not signal the end of a transition. Some of the most important aspects of the transfer of power happen after Jan. 20 as the new administration fills hundreds of critical assistant and deputy secretary slots, executive manager jobs and other mid-level government positions.

The Obama administration should prepare now to fill vacancies that will inevitably arise in the years to come, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress. It suggests several practical steps the president, his appointees and Congress should take to make the federal government's revolving door a little easier to tolerate. (The Center's founder, president and CEO, John Podesta, is currently serving as head of the Obama transition. So, in a sense, author Anne Joseph O’Connell is providing advice to her own boss.)

The report unearths several fascinating statistics:

• It took President Clinton an average of 457 days to fill deputy agency head positions and President George W. Bush an average of 422 days to fill technical positions [e.g. chief financial officers, controllers, comptrollers, scientists].

• Executive agency positions were vacant an average of 25 percent of the time over the past five administrations. Not surprisingly, vacancies were highest in the final year of each administration and greater when the party control of the White House changed.

• On average, it takes longer for a president to nominate executive agency leaders than for the Senate to confirm them. The report found that from 1987 to 2005, it took presidents an average of 173 days to nominate non-cabinet agency heads, and the Senate just 63 days to confirm them.

Presidents frequently leave Senate-confirmed positions at executive agencies vacant towards the end of their administrations, the report notes, often for hundreds of days. This trend feeds a frustrating challenge faced by rank and file employees: What should they be working on and to whom do they report when there's no permanent boss in place? This dilemma, which some call the "home alone" problem, often starts in the Spring of an election year through the first Summer of a new presidential administration.

So how can President Obama avoid keeping jobs vacant for long, potentially slowing down the productivity of key agencies? The report lists six suggestions:

1.) Get executive agency officials to commit to serving for a full presidential
The report suggests this could be a commitment required during the vetting process.

2.) Agency leaders should receive more training, similar to "freshmen orientation" sessions for new members of Congress. "If agency leaders perform better and face less hostile oversight, they will be more likely to serve longer," the report reads. The Center for Excellence in Government's SAGE Program already offers training to incoming public sector "C" individuals (like CFOs and CIOs) by matching them up with former government officials willing to provide advice and counsel. CEG plans to add similar training sessions for chief acquisition and human capital officers.

3.) Congress should increase pay and benefits for agency leaders. "Increased pay decreases the opportunity cost of entering public service for several years," according to the report.

4.) The president should pay more attention to lower-level appointments in executive agencies. It seems Obama's new chief performance officer Nancy Killefer may play a key role in making sure lower-level appointees get the job done right.

5.) The presidential personnel office should plan for future appointments after initial appointees take their positions. "The personnel office should anticipate that each Senate-confirmed executive agency position will be filled, on average, by at least two people during a presidential term," the report predicts. If you are interested in a government position, it seems prudent to make sure the personnel office has your updated resume!

6.) The president should ask political appointees in federal agencies to provide four weeks notice of resignation. Great idea. Last minute, surprise resignations or retirements at any organization certainly screw with the workflow, so this is a sensible suggestion.

Read the full report here, or peruse the executive summary.

By Ed O'Keefe  | January 16, 2009; 11:05 AM ET
Categories:  Administration, FY-Eye  
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Next: Another Last-Minute Bush Appointment


AMEN!!! AMEN!!! I hope OB does a better job than the last Democratic President. When Bill Clinton took office the field had to live with Republicans being in charged almost his entire first term. This is not good for the Federal Employees morale! Once the Party changed, ALL and I do mean ALL top political and field office level people should be ask to leave on the 20th of January at high noon!!! Bill acted as if his head was buried in the sand somewhere, while the poor fedERAL employees still had to suffered under the hands of the losing party, and these people already was not happy that their party loss! plus this was like walking on thin air with the employees who really wanted to rejoice out loud over Clinton win, but could not out of fear of the republican power-that-be, in charged-in the field offices. Please OB do a better job than the last DEM.

Posted by: Chrisjj1948 | January 18, 2009 2:58 AM | Report abuse

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