The invisible presidential appointments: an examination of appointments to the Department of Labor, 2001-11.

Author:Lewis, David E.
 
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The George W. Bush administration was plagued with allegations that its appointees politicized the bureaucracy. Critics charged that presidential appointees injected ideology into apolitical decisions at the Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Interior, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). (1) Following the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) lackluster response to Hurricane Katrina, subsequent investigations uncovered that most of the president's top PAS appointees (those requiring Senate confirmation) to that agency lacked even the most rudimentary emergency management experience. (2) While this case received a great deal of public scrutiny, the problem of politicized appointees only begins with PAS appointments.

In another case involving the Bush administration, an internal DOJ probe uncovered evidence that department appointees injected politics into agency decisions by hiring, firing, and promoting civil servants on the basis of political views, a clear violation of civil service norms and regulations. One of the key figures in the scandal, Monica Goodling, was a noncareer member of the Senior Executive Service (SES) serving in the Office of the Attorney General. (3) Goodling had begun her career at DOJ as a lower-level appointee, called a Schedule C appointee. Her basic qualification for the position at DOJ was that she worked previously as an opposition researcher for the Republican National Committee. Goodling's example at DOJ is not alone. Subsequent agency investigations uncovered evidence that lower-level appointees were involved in bullying career staff, censoring government reports, and leaking internal documents to outside groups in order to pursue the administration's policy and political goals.

Unfortunately, these examples are not specific to the G. W. Bush administration. Since Richard Nixon engaged in a concerted effort to secure policy change through administration, what Nathan (1975) calls the "administrative presidency," presidents have been accused of promoting loyalty over competence at the appointment stage. Presidents do so because "political appointments dominate the dynamic of institutional political control" (Wood and Waterman 1994, 73) and because loyal appointees are more likely to do the president's bidding. Hence, as Epstein and O'Halloran (1999, 60) note, "loyalty to the president's goals will be the primary factor in choosing executive branch officials." Or as Moe (1983, 243) states, presidents primarily are motivated to appoint "individuals on the basis of loyalty, ideology, or programmatic support."

Consequently, prevalent questions in the administrative presidency literature are on which basis presidents select appointees (loyalty versus competence versus other factors) and what affects these appointees have on policy outputs and performance? While much has been written on this subject, most studies of presidential appointments focus on a few high-profile positions, usually at the top of an agency or department's hierarchy. This focus ignores lower-level appointees. Monica Goodling was a lower-level DOJ appointee not requiring Senate confirmation. Yet she initiated a series of crucial, politically and legally questionable decisions that adversely impacted the president's reputation. Non-PAS appointments are of particular importance because of the 3,000 to 4,000 appointees available for political appointment in the executive branch, approximately 2,200 do not require Senate confirmation. Seven hundred are noncareer members of the SES. The SES is a corps of managers just below Senate-confirmed appointees and above the general civil service. Of the total number of close to 7,000 persons in the SES, 10% may be appointees. Close to 1,500 persons are appointed as Schedule C appointees, positions reserved for persons filling confidential or policy-making positions below Senate-confirmed or SES appointees. (4)

A primary focus on PAS appointments therefore ignores much of the diversity in appointments and may provide a distorted picture of presidential appointment politics since appointments to lower-level positions may follow a different process than those for higher positions. Yet these lower-level appointments play a crucial role in presidential and agency politics and policy making. Mid-level appointees manage the federal programs and bureaus and are at the heart of recent presidential efforts to gain control of the bureaucracy. Lower-level appointees often serve staff roles. Persons serving in these positions have little formal authority associated with their positions, but they can accrue substantial informal authority as the case of Monica Goodling suggests. Arguably the most important trends in the administrative presidency include increases in lower-level appointees and more careful selection of appointees at these lower levels.

In this article we examine the politics of what we call the president's invisible appointments. We so designate Schedule C and SES appointees as invisible because, in lieu of a scandal, these appointees serve in the bureaucracy, with little if any attention from the press or scholars. The fact that they are not subject to Senate confirmation also means that there is limited accountability and virtually no constraint on the president's appointment power) The problem in studying these non-PAS employees has been a lack of reliable data on their training and personal characteristics.

In addressing the invisible appointees we use new data from an ongoing research project that collects and codes data from the resumes of political appointees across the executive branch in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. In this article we examine data from the resumes of appointees serving in the Department of Labor during these two administrations. We describe the characteristics presidents consider when making appointments, explain which factors are most important for which positions, and then evaluate these expectations with the data. By looking carefully at the backgrounds of appointees at different levels we uncover numerous interesting insights.

Literature Review

There has been a great deal of research about how presidents control personnel selection in the federal executive establishment. These works explore the evolution of the White House personnel operation (Bonafede 1987; Hess 1988; National Academy of Public Administration 1983; Mackenzie 1981; Pfiffner 1996; Weko 1995), the growth in the number and penetration of political appointees (Heclo, 1977; Lewis 2008; Mackenzie 1981, 1987; National Commission on the Public Service 1989, 2003; Pfiffner 1996), the different factors that influence which persons presidents select for appointed positions (Durant 1987, 1992; Moe 1985; Moynihan and Roberts 2010; Pfiffner 1987; Waterman 1989), and the backgrounds and experiences of presidential appointments and their careerist counterparts (see, e.g., Aberbach and Rockman 2000; Cohen 1998; Fisher 1987; Krause and O'Connell 2010; Mann 1964; Maranto 1993; Maranto and Hult 2004; McMahon and Millett 1939; Michaels 1997). The development of the Presidential Personnel Office (PPO) and the increased sophistication of the president's personnel selection process coincided with an increase in the number and percentage of appointees in the executive establishment. Using their augmented White House personnel operation, presidents have expanded their control to even the lowest level appointees (senior agency officials used to control these lower-level appointments) and improved their ability to systematically evaluate candidates for appointed positions according to a number of factors (Weko 1995).

Scholarly research on presidential appointments describes how presidents evaluate potential candidates on factors such as loyalty, competence, acceptability to key legislators and committees, demographic characteristics, political connections, and work for the campaign or party (Mackenzie 1981; Pfiffner 1996). Scholars have particularly noted the increased presidential focus on loyalty and competence and, to a lesser extent, patronage considerations in filling appointed posts (Edwards 2001; Moe 1985; Weko 1995). Recent work wrestles explicitly with how presidents prioritize different characteristics in making appointments. Not all appointees rate highly on all the dimensions presidents care about, such as loyalty, competence, and political connections, and this fact forces the White House to make difficult choices about what factors are the most important criterion for different appointed positions. As a result, a growing body of research explores what characteristics of potential nominees are important for specific positions under particular circumstances. Some of this work focuses on the loyalty-competence trade-off, and other work focuses on patronage considerations.

Most of these studies concentrate their primary, if not their exclusive, focus on appointments involving Senate confirmation, the so-called PAS appointments. Yet, evaluating these scholarly works and the theories they explore is difficult without detailed information on the backgrounds and qualifications of those selected for mid- and lower-level appointed positions, as well--namely, persons selected for noncareer positions in the SES and Schedule C positions. While these appointees have received limited attention in the literature, they perform important functions. These mid-level appointees manage the federal programs and bureaus. Consequently, appointee responsiveness, backgrounds, and competence to these lower-level appointed positions have a direct impact on an agency's policy outputs and performance. Of even greater theoretical importance, since the debate flourishes over whether presidents should promote competence or loyalty, modern presidential efforts to politicize the...

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