Getting Appointed: Part II

John Kamensky, Senior Fellow

John Kamensky, Senior Fellow

I’ve recently gotten plenty of calls, and had quite a number of lunch engagements, around the same topic:  “How do I get a political appointment in the Obama Administration?”  I can’t say I’m an expert on getting a job, but you should first know what you’re getting into!

First, you can express interest via the Obama Transition website. has a “Jobs” button where you can fill out a short form and if they’re interested, they’ll contact you for more information.  Of course this doesn’t substitute for knowing somebody high up in the transition team or the campaign or Congress, but it is one avenue.  Another is to be on the transition team; that’s a place to audition and be seen.  There’s also an interesting website that Avue (a technology company) created that provides some guidance.

Second, look at what kinds of jobs are actually available.  The 2008 Plum Book lists all the political positions.  But it’s just that, a list.  It doesn’t have any background as to what the positions actually entail.  I understand that the outgoing Bush Administration has crafted position descriptions for many key positions and shared that information with the Obama Transition Team.  Theoretically, these descriptions should help identify the kinds of skills and capabilities the transition team should be looking for when recruiting for specific positions.

The Council for Excellence in Government prepares something they call the “Prune Book,” – a play on the Plum Book (where a Prune is an experienced Plum).  The 2008 version is now on line and describes 114 of the toughest jobs in the government.  It provides some historical context and background for each of these positions so you can see if you’ve got the talent and interest to be considered.  Similarly, you can look at the transcripts for IBM Center Radio Shows of senior appointees, which are searchable by agency or job description.  These transcripts highlight the responsibilities of the job holders and the issues they are grappling with.  However, all these positions are not necessarily political positions.

Third, understand the pathway to an appointment.  The Council has also just released an interactive “roadmap” for people interested in a political appointment.  It lays out the steps for the various kinds of appointments:  a political appointment that requires Senate confirmation (about 1,100 positions), a political appointment that does not require confirmation, a non-career senior executive appointment, and a Schedule C appointment (which covers positions up to a GS-15 rank). The roadmap gives you insights into what the steps are and what to expect along each of these paths.  It’s worth going through this “self diagnosis” to see if a political appointment is right for you!

Fourth, if selected, you’ll face intense scrutiny.  The Transition Team/White House has a 63-question questionnaire you’ll have to fill out.  Look at it to see if you have the stomach for going further!  Some of the questions are likely to be impossible to answer, like: furnish all resumes issued by you in the past 10 years (#1) and provide copies or recordings of every speech you’ve ever given (#12).  Other questions include:  describe the most controversial matters you have been involved in during your career (#8) have you had a physical in the past year and are in good health (#60)?  And the wrap-up (#63): provide any other information, including information about your family, that could be embarrassing.

If you pass this screen, you’ll then likely face an FBI security clearance.  That requires filling out a Form SF86 or other equivalent form and interviews with the FBI and investigations into your background including questioning your neighbors and friends.  At the same time, you’ll have to fill out Form SF278 financial disclosure statement for the Office of Government Ethics and they will have to certify your not having any conflicts of interest.  You may need to divest yourself of stock, etc., that may be judged to be a potential conflict of interest (and in this market, that may be a tough decision).  And if you are pursuing a Senate confirmed position, each Senate Committee has its own questionnaire about your personal background – and at some point questions about your substantive knowledge regarding the policy area you would be pursuing (see GAO’s suggested questions in 2001; they’ll likely update this list for use in 2009).

Finally, part of the advice I give, is . . . if you are really interested in public service, look at a career position at!


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