Academic journal article The Public Manager

Strong Executive Branch Leadership Crucial for Policy Implementation

Academic journal article The Public Manager

Strong Executive Branch Leadership Crucial for Policy Implementation

Article excerpt

A president is elected every four years, but he or she does not run the government alone. Thousands of political appointments must be made to establish the White House's leadership of the executive branch.

These appointments depend on an elaborate process of recruitment, confirmation, the mastering of their offices, and the collaboration with career executives to implement the president's priorities and execute the law. But the political appointee system that developed over the course of the 20th century is broken in several important ways.

In recent administrations, the political appointments process has slowed significantly. From 1964 to 1984, presidents had about 48 percent of their top appointees in place within two months. But from 1984 to 1999, only 15 percent had been appointed. In the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, about 50 percent of the top 75 national security appointments were vacant on May 1 of their inaugural year, and 85 percent of the top subcabinet positions in legislative, legal, management, and budget offices remained empty. The average time to get a new appointee confirmed was about three months in the 1960s and now approaches 10 months. Vacancies at the beginning of second terms, when turnover of personnel is common, present similar challenges.

Causes for delays in confirmation include inadequate pre-election planning, insufficient human resources devoted to personnel, slow recruitment and vetting, multiple information forms to be filled out by candidates, and the flood of applications for jobs after each election. Once filled, these positions often become vacant before the end of a president's term, leading to agency inaction, uncertainty for civil servants in implementing programs, and lack of accountability. In addition, the expanding role of political appointees, combined with their increasing numbers, has exacerbated the consequences of delayed confirmation and has led to the underutilization of the career services, with serious program delivery consequences.

This article will make recommendations for improving the recruitment of political appointees for the executive branch, reducing the total number of appointees, increasing the efficiency of Senate confirmation of appointees, and using the career services more effectively.

Recruitment of Political Appointees

For the president to be able to fully implement new policy priorities and lead the nation, it is crucial to have the top levels of executive branch leadership in place. Each presidential administration is faced with appointing about 3,000 people to help run the executive branch. In addition, there are another 3,000 part-time presidential appointments, as well as about 700 White House staff appointments. Of the 3,000 executives and commissioners, about 800 require Senate confirmation (not counting 200-300 U.S. attorneys, marshals, and ambassadors). In addition, there are about 800 noncareer Senior Executive Service appointments, and 1,500 Schedule C (GS-15 and below) appointments.

To facilitate the timely placement of presidential appointees, we recommend that presidents establish priorities on positions to be filled quickly, especially those related to national security. More resources should be allocated to the Office of Presidential Personnel (OPP); the OPP should work closely with the Senate and vetting agencies to share information about nominees to expedite clearance processes. A reduction in the total number of political appointees would facilitate the political appointments process and improve the leadership of the executive branch.

Of course, the routine functions of government continue to be carried out by the civil and military officials responsible for implementing policies that are in place. But they cannot represent the president's administration, provide policy leadership, or make decisions about significant policy changes. In addition, the increasing layers of political appointees mean that there are fewer career executives who have the requisite experience to serve effectively at the highest levels of departments and agencies. …

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