Academic journal article Public Administration Review

A View from the Top: Reflections of the Bush Presidential Appointees

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

A View from the Top: Reflections of the Bush Presidential Appointees

Article excerpt

Who were the women and men at the highest levels of the federal government, the Senate-confirmed presidential appointees (PASs), who served at the top of George Bush's administration? Little empirical attention has been directed to this group. One study designed and conducted with the General Accounting Office (GAO) sought to fill this information gap. This article discusses key findings from the study in four areas germane to political appointments: PASs: their identity; their general qualifications for their job; and the intra- and interbureaucratic issues with which they dealt in their capacity as senior political appointees.

The institution of political appointments has evolved into a system of some complexity and large numbers in the modern era, with a marked acceleration in both in the past 25 years. In the late 1960s, there were approximately 1,200 political appointees; now there are some 4,800 positions at the president's disposal. While numbers are notoriously difficult to establish with certainty, according to the 1992 Plum Book, there are, located primarily in the executive branch, some 1,163 full-time and 1,565 part-time PAS positions, as well as 561 high-level political positions that do not require Senate confirmation. There are also 459 excepted political positions, 95 "other" positions, 723 positions in the Senior Executive Service (SES), and 1,794 Schedule C positions. Additionally, there are 903 federal judgeships lodged in the judicial branch and six PASs in the legislative branch.

The president's staff grew significantly in the Reagan-Bush years, with a 20 percent increase from 1986 to 1992 in the Executive Office of the President (EOP) alone. Not included in the count are careerists who are detailed to the White House from the agencies. Meanwhile, the executive agencies saw an overall increase of more than 20 percent in presidential appointments in this publicly antigovernment-growth time.

Often called short-timers, short-termers, or in-and-outers, because of their brief tenure and tendency (sometimes) to recycle back into government after leaving it, political appointees occupy a central place in any modern administration. They constitute the president's front line in the policy wars of state and set the tone and direction of the executive agencies and independent regulatory commissions (IRCs). While their numbers, placement, quality, function, and tenure are hotly debated, PASs' key position in any government cannot be denied.

Coincident with the increased number of political appointees and their placement deeper in the bureaucracy have come questions about their competence and motives. The conventional wisdom regarding these appointees posits the typical appointee as a political hack, someone who has a political job for which even the most charitable person would not consider him or her qualified. Usually, the persons so labeled are large contributors to or loyal workers in the party, such as a fourth-level campaign worker (or their son or daughter), who is placed in a top-level position in the administration. Additionally, political hacks are thought to possess limited knowledge of or commitment to government, per se, and to be self-aggrandizing, agenda-driven ideologues, more committed to their own goals than to the competent administration of their agency.

This characterization of political appointees grew increasingly popular during the first Reagan administration and lingered into the second. To what extent, however, was it accurate of the Bush appointees? Further, as a group, who were the women and men who served George Bush's administration? This empirical analysis provides some answers to these questions.

Key Findings


Who were George Bush's PASs? It was possible from the survey responses to posit the existence of a "typical" PAS in the Bush administration. This person was, to no one's suprise, a white, married, middle-aged, comfortably upper-middle or upper class male Republican. …

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