Senators seek to slash number of presidential appointees

By Al Kamen
Monday, March 8, 2010; 4:19 PM

Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Monday introduced a bill to slash the number of presidential political appointees, both full-time and part-time, from about 3,500 to 2,000 employees.

The measure, similar to ones they had introduced during the Clinton and Bush administrations, would most likely cut lower-level schedule C appointees -- the "confidential aide" and "special advisor" jobs usually filled by campaign workers.

Both senators have promoted such reductions, which are strongly supported by government reform experts, as a way to reduce costs, cut government and streamline the bureaucracy. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated these cuts could yield a savings of nearly $900 million over ten years.

Presidents generally "believe that the more political appointees you get into office, the more responsive the bureaucracy becomes," said New York University professor Paul Light, author of "A Government Ill-Executed." While that may be so at a certain level, after a while "an inflated number of presidential appointees makes for paralysis," he said.

The bloated bureaucracy leads to increased layers of officials with lengthy titles such as "deputy assistant secretary and Office of the Secretary of Defense special coordinator for cooperative threat reduction and secretary of defense representative and deputy head to the safety, security and dismantlement talks." Yes, that's just one person.

"The more people you get in these jobs," Light said, "the less presidential control you have."

In a statement, the senators note that the number of political appointees, estimated at about 2,700 at the end of the Carter administration, has "shot up by nearly 28 percent." Their proposal gives the administration one year to determine where to make the cuts needed to bring the total down to 2,000 appointees.

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