Trump administration can appoint up to 9,000

Shutterstock image (by Mad Dog): approval stamp, resume review. 

Beyond the top-level cabinet positions where new administrations tend to turn their immediate attention, President-elect Donald Trump will have the authority to place thousands of political appointees throughout the government.

The number of possible positions could be over 9,000, by the most recent count the Office of Personnel Management.

The 2016 edition of the Plum Book, a quadrennial purple-covered listing of the positions the president can fill, contains a detailed but still incomplete list of jobs subject to non-competitive appointments.

The first such collection was requested in 1952 as a guide by the Eisenhower administration, and has been released every four years since 1960.

The number of positions tallied in this year's edition, released Dec. 5 by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs under the official title "Policy and Supporting Positions," has swollen by about 2,000 since President Barack Obama took office in 2008.

However, the 9,000 figure includes part-time appointments to various executive boards, nonpolitical jobs and other odds and ends. David Eagles, director of the Center for Presidential Transition at the Partnership for Public Service, told FCW the number to focus on is closer to 4,000.

Even that smaller number is daunting, however. "This is the largest takeover on Earth," said Eagles. "It's a prioritization game to get these positions filled to keep this country safe and prosperous."

The potential positions can be broken down into four main categories: those requiring Senate confirmation, those not requiring Senate confirmation, non-career members of the Senior Executive Service and Schedule C appointments.

And while Eagles said "there's a cadre of 400-500 agency leaders" that should be named and on the job by next August, the process of filling all the subcabinet-level positions historically has consumed a good portion of a presidential term.

According to the Center for American Progress, from 1987 to 2005, it took presidents an average of 301 days to nominate non-cabinet agency heads, and another 82 days for Senate confirmation. For Senate-confirmed posts below the agency head level, the average has been 173 to nomination and then 63 days to confirmation.

The non-Senate confirmed appointments, meanwhile, include White House staff, officials in smaller agencies and members of various executive boards and commissions. Schedule C positions include jobs that work in a confidential or policy-related role, and comprise the majority of presidential appointments. And then approximately 10 percent of the SES workforce can be politically appointed.

For each position, the Plum Book includes eight columns: where the job is located; the position's title; the name of the incumbent, if any; the type of appointment; the pay plan; the level, grade or dollar amount paid for the position; the tenure of the appointment; and when the appointment expires.

If Trump follows through on promises to roll back the size of the bureaucracy and install "a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce federal workforce through attrition," it is possible that some of these listed positions -- including ones where political conversions can occur -- could be eliminated.

"There's a lot of discretion with the incoming teams to fill these roles," said Eagles. "For every team, it depends on their policy priorities… You don't have to fill them all, particularly those non-Senate confirmed positions."

Copies of the 226-page job listing are available online, and hard copies can be purchased through the Government Publishing Office for $41.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter


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