Correction to This Article
The Nov. 7 explanation of why no jobs are listed for the office of the vice president in the new edition of the Plum Book was incorrect. The Bush administration has taken the position that the vice president's office is not part of the executive branch. Previous administrations have listed jobs in the vice president's office in the book.

The Plum Book: Washington's Hottest Read

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By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 7, 2008; 7:02 AM

The hottest read in town next week will not be another kiss-and-tell about the departing Bush administration or one more yawn about subprime lending.

Instead, Washington's government and political set is breathlessly awaiting the release of the Plum Book, a.k.a. the job book.

To the untrained eye, this paperback with the purple cover might look like a rather tedious government list of names. But to the thousands of Republicans who will be on the street soon, and thousands of Democrats eyeing those posts, it is a road map to employment in tough economic times.

Published once every four years, the Plum Book (its full name is United States Policy and Supporting Positions) puts in circulation every political job in the outgoing administration, including the name of the office holder and salary. The important thing to keep in mind about the Plum Book is that one-third of the 8,000 or so jobs listed are strictly political appointments -- that is, patronage jobs that will go largely to Democrats.

The book is due out on Wednesday, and the press run will be 2,717 copies. But only 1,000 hard copies are for sale- the rest are given away to members of congress and other officials. It will be free on line at Government Printing Office site.

The Democrats have been out of power for eight years, so you can expect to see a tsunami of job seekers at the Obama transition employment office. The remainder of the positions are support jobs and senior policy slots, such as "Schedule C" positions. Those are designated non-competitive appointments by the president because of the confidential nature or special skills required for the appointment.

The other important fact: Many of the positions are fungible, which means you may have your eye on a job that the incoming administration intends to convert to some other job, so don't get your hopes up too high.

The Plum Book "gives people a good overview of responsibilities and opportunities," said Mark Gearan, deputy director of Bill Clinton's 1992 transition and now president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. "People are coming at you from all directions -- the campaign, private and public sectors -- and so it's a good starting point."

Gearan still vividly recalls the landslide of job applications his office received after the election. He was startled by the quantity of material that some applicants thought he had time to read. "It reminds me of the old college counselors' saying ¿ the thicker the file, the thicker the applicant," he said.

Chase Untermeyer, who handled political appointments for President George H.W. Bush in 1988, found the Plum Book marginally useful.

"It's less valuable than it appears. All it is, is snapshots of the jobs the outgoing administration filled," Untermeyer said. "The new administration might abolish many of those positions. They might not want a director of fish and fowl. ..... The real value for me was as a reference for salary levels."

The Eisenhower administration produced the first comprehensive political job list in 1952. Democrats had controlled all the political jobs in the prior two decades, and the Republican Party urged the president to compile a list of government positions that would be available to Republicans. The Plum Book appeared again in 1960 and has since been published after every presidential election.

The book is alternately published by the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs and the House Committee on Government Reform. This year, the Senate side has control, and it's due out in the next week.

A perusal of the 1996 Plum Book brings up the names of familiar former senior staffers in the Clinton White House, including George Stephanopoulos, now anchor of the ABC News program "This Week"; Rahm Emanuel, now a Democratic House leader; Harold Ickes, a political operatives who advised Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign; and Sandy Berger, the former national security adviser who later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of removing classified material from National Archives.

The deeper one gets into the book, the more obscure the job titles become. From the 2004 Plum Book, there's the director of high-intensity drug trafficking area/assistant deputy director for supply reduction. At the Defense Department, one might aspire to be the principal assistant deputy under secretary and director, industrial base management initiatives or the deputy director, defense research and engineering/deputy undersecretary of defense, laboratories and basic sciences.

But regardless of how obscure the position might be, there are always plenty of applicants.

"Handling jobs requires combat skills and a keen sense of why you're there," Untermeyer said. "Once people start hammering and yammering and threatening you, you better feel confident that you know what kinds of people the president-elect wants serving. And you won't find that in the Plum Book."

It should be noted that no jobs will be listed in the book for the office of the vice president. A spokesman for the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Reform explained that the vice president's office is technically neither part of the executive or legislative branch.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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