Department of Defense Political Appointments: Positions and Process

By Cheryl Y. Marcum; Lauren R. Sager Weinstein et al. | Go to book overview
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Twenty men have served as Secretary of Defense since the National Security Act of 1947 established the senior politically appointed position in the Department of Defense (DoD). During the 52-year period since that time, the number of positions for presidential appointees with Senate confirmation (PASs) in the DoD has increased from 12 in 1947 to 45 as of May 1999.1 These Senate-confirmed officials are augmented by another group of political appointees who are noncareer members of the Senior Executive Service (SES). In FY 1998, PAS and noncareer SES appointees comprised only 0.004 and 0.01 percent, respectively, of the DoD's civilian workforce. Even though these political appointees make up a small percentage of the total DoD civilian workforce, they play key leadership roles in the department.In late 1998, the Defense Science Board established the Task Force on Human Resources Strategy. The task force was established to review trends and opportunities to improve DoD's capacity “to attract and retain civilian and military personnel with the necessary motivation and intellectual capabilities” to serve and lead within the Department. During its early meetings, panel members raised the following questions about political appointee positions, about the appointees, and about the appointment process:
What are the changes in positions over time by number, level, and function?
What is the tenure of those who served in the most senior positions? How does this compare to other departments?
Have these positions been more difficult to fill and keep filled in recent periods?
How are people selected for these positions? Are there obstacles or deterrents to service?

The material presented in this report was prepared to assist the task force in answering these questions. The material consists of (1) data on PAS and noncareer SES; and (2) a review of the literature on the appointment process.

Public Law (P.L.) 105–261 (October 17, 1998) reduced the number of authorized Assistant Secretary of Defense positions from ten to nine, thereby reducing the number of authorized PAS positions in the DoD from 45 to 44. As of May 1999, official Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) title reports still reflected 45 PAS positions in the DoD.


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