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A Faster Way To Find the Plums

By Mike Causey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 17 1996; Page B02

Patronage has gone cyberspace. Pork is on the Internet.

For the first time, computer-literate people anywhere can surf their way through some of Washington's hottest, best-paying federal jobs. We'll give you the magic code word shortly.

The 7,400 jobs listed pay from the mid-30s to more than $100,000 a year. They are in virtually every federal agency. Many will be up for grabs over the next couple of months as Cabinet officers leave and their replacements assemble their own teams of loyalists.

The trick is to know where the jobs are, what they pay and the name of the incumbent who stands between you and a nice tour of duty on the banks of the Potomac.

You don't have to be a Democrat to get one of these jobs, but it sure would help.

The book of "Policy and Supporting Positions," better known as the "Plum Book," is due to hit both federal and nonfederal bookstores today. But it could be a while before the quadrennial mini-bestseller reaches stores in the Washington area or before job-hunters in Ames, Iowa, or in Monkey's Eyebrow, Ky., get on the distribution list. It will sell for about $12 at federal bookstores, slightly more at nonfederal shops.

Demand for the catalogue of those jobs that the White House can fill outside civil service rules is normally hottest when control shifts from one party to another.

But this time, it is a big deal because so many people who were part of the first Clinton administration (known as Clinton I) are not going to hang around to see how Clinton II turns out.

The secretaries of state, defense, labor, transportation and housing and urban development have announced plans to leave or are preparing to do so. The departure of high-level officials at the Social Security Administration and many other federal agencies also could lead to job openings down the line.

When political bosses leave, the folks they brought with them move to a bureaucratic version of death row.

The next boss may keep them around for a while, but generally their days are numbered. The White House, under Republicans and Democrats alike, also likes to stick in each agency a few of its own people as "watchers," whose first loyalty is to the White House rather than to the people who were told to give them a job.

Although it is smaller and not as old as the Olympics, the quadrennial job-changing exercise in the U.S. government is a big deal. It draws some of the best people in the country (and lots of others) to Washington -- people who want to be part of history, help their country, make a change or simply get a well-paying job with good benefits.

Getting one of the jobs, in many cases, ensures that after several years, a person can go back home, or stay in Washington, and find a much-better-paying job in private industry. Or that person can run for political office and come back to Washington as a member of the House or Senate.

But you gotta have a Plum Book to play. Being without it is like betting on a horse race without knowing the horse, the jockey or the stakes. The Plum Book, for careful browsers, tells all that.

This year, the book was put out by the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. The House and Senate take turns publishing the book, and this year, it was the House's turn. It's available on the Web at http://www.house.gov/reform/plum.htm

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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