Appointments: Indignities and Progress


Much like the policeman in the movie classic “Casablanca,” Harvard professor Steve Kelman is shocked.  Not about gambling, but about the political appointment process!  He should know what it’s like.  He’s been through it before himself! 


Nevertheless, in his most recent blog, “Nomination Process Out of Control,” he highlights some cases of where the increasingly vigilant Obama vetting process queried “a candidate who ran into trouble when unable to produce receipts for furniture bought a decade ago that was later donated to charity, and another asked questions about his wife’s sex life at college. Someone I know told me he had been grilled about whether it was appropriate to deduct all his monthly wireless internet fee as a business expense.” 


He goes on to observe:  “This is bad for good government. In the short term, it delays getting a political team in place. . . .  More broadly, it deprives the government of honorable, smart potential appointees . . .  while discouraging others, unwilling to go through vetsteria, from seeking appointment in the first place.


Richard Cohen, in his column “Country First” in today’s Washington Post, reinforces Kelman’s observation.  Cohen points to Larry Summers, who earned $8 million last year — and took a $7.9 million pay cut to work in government.  Cohen goes on: “Other members of the Obama team similarly unburdened themselves of excess wealth, spare time and privacy, proving money is not everything . . . They have their reasons, sure, but whatever they are, we — not they — are the richer for it.”


In a related piece, the Washington Post noted yesterday that the Obama political nomination process is moving forward.  Nearly one-third of the top 486 positions now have nominees, and as of Friday (after the Senate approved a batch of nominations and left town for Easter Break), there were a total of 58 confirmed appointees in place.  This is actually a recent record. In 2001, President Bush only had 29 confirmed appointees after his first 100 days in office.


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