Political appointees constitute the heart of civilian leadership in the Pentagon. Individuals who are appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate occupy a total of 45 positions in the top echelons of the Department of Defense (DoD), including the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and the military departments—up from 12 a half-century ago.1
A Help or a Hindrance to Attracting Individuals
to Serve in Senior DoD Positions?
As the number of political appointee positions has grown over the past 50 years, so too have the processes and procedures that individuals must undergo to gain Senate confirmation. Candidates today must provide extensive background and financial information to the White House before they are nominated. Once nominated, individuals must provide even more information on additional topics to the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and Senate investigators. Once confirmed, political appointees must then adhere to a complex set of federal ethics and conflict-of-interest laws passed in recent decades—legislation that limits their financial and investment options when they are in office while constraining their business and employment opportunities after they leave government service.
At the same time, political appointee positions are taking longer to fill than has been the case in the past; the amount of time such positions go unfilled or are occupied by “acting” officials is rising; and the average time a political appointee spends in a DoD position is shrinking. Today's political appointee nominees face a confirmation process that lasts an average of 8.5 months—more than triple the wait their counterparts endured just three decades ago. Moreover, political appointee positions are vacant some 20 percent of the time today, up from nearly nil 50 years ago. And turnover is high; the most common tenure for the most senior DoD officials ranges between 11 and 20 months.____________________