The Sport of Spoils

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The endless, bitter race for the White House is over. But it's hardly the time for the winners to bury the hatchet. On the contrary, today is the official start of the truly ugly infighting and backstabbing as original supporters and latecomers joust for top positions in the new administration. The lists are circulating, and the usual suspects are being rounded up.

The White House counts more than 3,300 presidential job appointments in all. About half -- 1,600 -- are Schedule C jobs, which include entry-level positions and some senior policy posts, that would go to some of the tens of thousands of people expected to send résumés. This time, they'll file them to Internet job sites that both transition teams have established.

About 700 positions are for non-career Senior Executive Service members, generally highly skilled folks -- policy wonks, managers, financial officers -- who will come from the private sector or academia into agencies for specific tasks.

The really nasty battles are often reserved for the 300 or so presidential appointee slots, the top White House jobs, such as the National Security Council -- and especially for the 400 Cabinet and sub-Cabinet jobs that require Senate confirmation, known as PAS positions. The 400 do not include nearly 200 U.S. attorneys and marshals, federal judges, and about 200 ambassadors.

There was a time when those seeking jobs in Washington were confounded by a Kafkaesque maze, a process that was nasty, brutish and long. It's still no fun, but thanks to the Internet and a new project by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Council for Excellence in Government, there's no reason for anyone to be surprised about how trying the process will be.

The council's Presidential Appointee Roadmap, soon to be fully online for the first time, with lots of links to a wealth of government material, provide one-stop shopping for the answers to almost any question about the job you want. Do you seriously think you're qualified for this job? Do you have adequate clout with the right people? Are you a close friend of insiders who can get you the job? And, most important, can you verify the precise day that you switched from Hillary to Barack or from Mitt to John?

What about all those years you "forgot" to pay taxes? Think they won't find out about that? Or the illegal nanny?

Fill Out Your Cabinet Bracket

And now, it's time for the Loop Pick Four contest, the inaugural contest for the new administration. Simply guess who the new president will pick for the original quartet of Cabinet posts: secretary of state, secretary of defense, secretary of the Treasury and attorney general. A bonus question will be to guess which members of the opposing party will be in the Cabinet -- in those posts or others.

The top 10 winners -- and you may not even need to guess all four correctly -- will win one of those coveted In the Loop T-shirts, plus bragging rights. As always, entries may be submitted "on background."

Send your entries -- one per person -- via e-mail to: or mail to In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. You must include a phone number -- home, work or cell -- to be eligible. The deadline for entries is Nov. 17. These things move quickly.

Good luck. Meanwhile, we'll get to work tallying the winners in the Loop Pick the President contest back from September.

All in the Family

Eyebrows were raised on occasion over the muscle exerted at the State Department by Elizabeth Cheney, daughter of the veep. There was the scene recounted in our colleague Glenn Kessler's book "The Confidante" when Cheney, a mid-level official, bulldozed her way onto Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's plane, complete with her personal Secret Service detail, for a trip to Iraq. Her husband, Philip J. Perry, has held senior positions at the departments of Justice and Homeland Security and at the White House budget office.

But neither of the Bush kids was ever able to get a job. Federal law prohibits the president from appointing his wife or any other close family member to a job in the executive branch. The Postal Revenue and Federal Salary Act of 1967 is also called the Bobby Kennedy law, because it was approved in response to President John F. Kennedy's appointment of his brother as attorney general.

Using very broad language, the 1967 law says that "a public official may not appoint, employ, promote, [or] advance" a relative in an agency "in which he is serving or over which he exercises jurisdiction or control." A "relative" under this law includes not only immediate family but aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, in-laws and stepbrothers, stepsisters, half brothers and half sisters.

The purpose of the law, according to its legislative history, is "to prevent a public official from appointing a relative to a . . . position . . . in the agency in which the public official serves or over which he exercises supervision." The law applies to all agencies in the executive, legislative and judicial branches, and appears to extend any job, not just senior positions.

It appears to rule out boards and commissions and virtually everything else. There's some squishiness when it comes to spouses serving on nonpaying jobs on certain commissions, and President Bush was able to appoint a cousin to an ambassadorship, but the law seems pretty conclusive in ruling out executive branch positions.

After the Sarah Palin and Joe Biden nominations, there was some head-scratching about the possibility that the "first dude" or one of the Biden sons -- one is Delaware's attorney general -- would be able to get a job in the administration.

The vice president, with Cheney having set the precedent, does not appear to be covered. Seems like Congress, as a good government, good management, anti-nepotism measure, might want to do a little expanding of the 1967 law.

In Fossil News . . .

The country is riveted on the presidential election, and the administration is now officially lame and quacking, but the bureaucracy is alive, well and beavering away, filling vacancies and announcing major news.

For example, the Department of Energy yesterday put out a NEWSALERT to the media letting us know that Victor K. Der, a 35-year Energy veteran, has been named principal deputy assistant secretary for fossil energy. He'll be helping to oversee research and development of fossil energy and the U.S. petroleum reserves.

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