Staffing Progress in the Obama Administration


Media reports seem to be focusing on the consequences of a sluggish appointment process.  Just this morning, the Washington Post highlighted another potential appointee withdrawing his name for consideration.  And a couple days ago, Tom Friedman’s column in the New York Times derided the process.


While it seems the appointment process has slowed down, when viewed in retrospect, the appointments of new senior officials isn’t that far off from the historical trend.  Bottom line:  it’s always been slow.


In fact, there seems to be a far quicker staffing of the senior appointments just below the level requiring Senate confirmation.  The “non-career senior executive” ranks – which ranged from about 650-800 positions in past administrations – have been filling in very quickly.  These are executives who have the authority to get things done.  By the first week of March in 2001, the Bush Administration had appointed 5 non-career senior executives; at the same point in the Obama Administration, 183 have been appointed.


The Obama White House is taking pains to compare its progress against the past three presidents.  It shared a table last week showing the historical trend in the appointment process of (1) presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed positions (also called “PAS”); (2) non-career senior executives (also called “NC-SES”); and (3) Schedule C political appointees (those positions GS-15 and below) that oftentimes serve as liaisons, special assistants, and advisors.


The table shows that, as of the first week of March, Obama had appointed 545 political appointees (cumulatively) through the first week of March, compared to 408 for George W. Bush, 385 for Clinton, and 530 for George H.W. Bush, at the same points in their new administrations.


While this may seem comforting in some corners, it still is seen as baffling by foreign observers who can’t believe it will take a year before there is a functioning government in place for them to deal with!  As one foreign observer noted to me, “I can’t believe you’re the number one power in the world with this kind of staffing process!”


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