Getting Appointed: Part I

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It’s the day before the election and I’m getting calls from some readers about how to get a political appointment.  I’ve no special knowledge.  My appointment to a minor post almost 15 years ago was a fluke.

 But I thought it was worth writing about what happens once you are tapped!

The Office of Government Ethics (OGE), an independent agency headed by Robert Cusick, will be one of your first stops in seeking any high-level government post.  Cusick, by law, must certify that someone nominated for a high-level job, mainly one of the 1,100 positions that require Senate confirmation, does not have financial interests that conflict with his or her prospective government duties.  Or, more likely, that the person “takes certain steps after confirmation” to remove any financial conflict of interest.  This might including selling company stock (yes, I know this is a great time in the financial market to be doing this, but that’s the price of public service!).

This clearance process is separate from the political clearance needed from the transition office or the White House office of presidential personnel, and is separate from the security clearance conducted by the FBI.

Of course, there is a government form that needs filled out – Form SF 278, “Public Financial Disclosure Report.”  The form is not simple.  OGE has proposed fixing it, but it cannot because its contents are required by law and Congress has not acted upon recommendations to simplify it.  It also has to be filled out by other government officials, so it was not designed to specifically torment those being confirmed by the Senate.

Each agency has its own ethics staff.  In fact, OGE conducted special pre-transition training in September for more than 600 agency ethics officers who are the first line of contact for prospective appointees. 

In the past, there have been complaints about the ethics paperwork being part of the burdensomeness of the appointment process.  One recent study found that half of all questions in the nomination process that were related to conflicts of interest or tax information were redundant or repetitive.  Nevertheless, in testimony before a Senate committee back in September, Director Cusick said: “I am confident that OGE has processes in place to meet the demands of this transition.”   He is also working with the Senate to put procedures in place to quickly transmit certified financial disclosure reports of potential cabinet members so committees can proceed with their confirmation hearings.

To help prospective appointees, OGE has created a special landing spot on its webpage where you can find a helpful resource guide for potential appointees.  Here is a short video describing the financial disclosure process and conflicts-of-interest analysis to prospective appointees, as well.

By the way, if you want to learn more about the (problematic) political appointment process, see a blog entry written last year!

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