Surviving a second term

If you are one of the 8,000 political and non-career appointees of the Obama administration, there is good news and not-so-good news. The good news is the big boss got reelected and was sworn in this week for a second term. So it’s official, four more years.

The bad news…

You may not be around this time next year. Or even next month!

There is certainly no guarantee that the Cabinet officer (or White House liaison) who appointed you will stay around for another four years. Many have already announced their departure, which means you may soon follow.

For career civil servants, the beginning and end of an administration or a second term can present certain problems. New bosses, new ideas, new priorities. The tendency during the second term to establish the President’s place in history can be noble or a nightmare scenario.

There are also some things that career employees can do to ensure they outlive and outlast their temporary political bosses. While career civil servants have job security, they are not immune to being side-tracked or driven out (or driven nuts) by their political bosses for a variety of reasons.

For the politicals, current and future, the news is that you made it. Your talent, loyalty, hard work (and connections) got you into the political and policy-making ranks of the government. For some of you it will mean bigger and better things ahead when you return to academia or the private sector.

The bad news, if you like your job and appreciate your pay grade, is that your days are numbered.

Defense, for example, has the largest number of non-career appointees, political and schedule C appointees and others — from drivers to policymakers — who serve at the pleasure of the secretary and/or White House. Since Leon Panetta will be leaving, that means so will lots of high-ranking DoD appointees. The same is true for the Interior Department, whose new secretary is likely to be a veteran of the department from the Clinton years who currently has a top political job with an independent agency.

The typical political appointee lasts an average of about 18 months. That means some get the chop (or quit) much earlier, like the sub-cabinet guy who wanted a military heraldic unit to design him a personalized flag he could fly in his office. Others serve out full terms (of four to eight years) assuming the big boss gets reelected and your secretary wants to (and is allowed to) stay on.

Some must be approved by the Senate. Others (assuming they can pass the clearance process) can be hired without fanfare. In past administrations, the White House sometimes strongly “suggested” that certain people be hired, even though the Cabinet officer and his/her staff didn’t know, like or trust them. The presumption was that the appointee was reporting back to the White House as to what was actually going on in the department or agency.

So what do the next few weeks, and the next four years, hold for you? Listen to our Your Turn radio show today at 10 a.m.

Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executive Association, will talk about how transitions work and how they impact both political appointees and career civil servants.

Later, Sean Reilly and Steve Losey with the Federal Times join me to talk reforms to the Combined Federal Campaign, labor-management forums and what the second term means for both career feds and political appointees.

Where the jobs are

To check out where all those political jobs are, click here.


By Jack Moore

Before the 16th century, nearly all carrots were actually purple. In the 1500s, Dutch planters mixed mutant strains (yellow and white) which eventually became the “sweet, plump orange variety we have today,” according to Today I Fount Out.


Defense workforce caps put key skills at risk
The Government Accountability Office questions whether the Defense Department has done enough to ensure core competencies and key skills aren’t lost or left unfilled as the department complies with workforce caps put in place two years ago.

Inauguration 2013 – The Day Through Photos
“We are made for this moment and we will seize it, so long as we seize it together,” President Barack Obama said during his Inaugural Address. Check out photos here.

Copyright © 2023 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.