Daley Pledge On Patronage Is Applauded
By Stephen Barr
The pledge by incoming Commerce secretary William Daley to abolish 100 political jobs at the department has renewed an old battle over whether federal agencies are stuffed with too many patronage jobs.
In the first Clinton term, the White House filled more than 3,000 jobs across the government with political appointees, most of them bunched at the top of each federal agency. The highest-ranking positions pay from $100,000 to $148,000 a year.
Public policy scholars, nonprofit groups and some members of Congress have argued that there are too many presidential appointees, that it takes a president too long to recruit and name them and that constant turnover in the political ranks hampers agency operations and dampens the morale of career workers.
Until Daley, a scion of the Chicago political family, made his pledge Wednesday at his Senate confirmation hearing, no senior Clinton administration official had offered such a wholesale abolition of political jobs. "This is truly a revolutionary proposal," said University of Wisconsin professor Donald F. Kettl. "Putting the number of political appointees on the table is an important issue."
Political appointees their numbers and roles have not been part of the administration's "reinventing government" agenda, even though it cut more than 250,000 career jobs.
In the early days of the administration, officials decided not to trim the political ranks because the 3,000 jobs were insignificant when compared with the executive branch's nearly 2 million career employees. "It is not a big enough group to worry about, given the size of the management task before them," said one administration official, who pointed out that the appointments ensure that a loyal cadre will carry out the White House's wishes.
Given that stance, it seems unlikely that other Cabinet departments will follow Daley's lead. The decision to cut 100 of the 256 political jobs at Commerce also appears to represent a tactical move by Daley.
The department once again is vulnerable to congressional attack and budget cuts, because of the current investigations into Democratic fund-raising and the role of former Commerce political appointee John Huang, which come on the heels of an effort by GOP House members to dismantle the department.
Federal personnel data suggest that Commerce may have been overstocked with political appointees. The data show that Commerce has 32,000 employees and 256 political appointees, while the Health and Human Services Department has 58,000 workers and 140 appointees. The largest Cabinet department, Defense, has 795,000 civilian employees and 278 political appointees.
"From our perspective, most agencies are clearly in balance between career and noncareer staff and Mr. Daley just felt Commerce was an exception to that and he could do with less," said White House deputy chief of staff John Podesta.
Daley's decision to cut 100 political jobs was cleared by the White House but will not automatically mean an equal number of people will be out by year's end. A Commerce spokeswoman said 207 political jobs are currently filled while 49 positions are vacant.
As at other federal agencies, Commerce's political appointees fall into three categories: Commerce has 21 appointees who underwent Senate confirmation and hold many of the highest-ranking policy posts.
Sixty-three appointees serve in the Senior Executive Service, usually management, scientific or technical jobs with salaries from $97,000 to $116,000.
The remaining 123 hold Schedule C positions. Those jobs, which pay less than $100,000, usually involve handling sensitive or confidential matters, and most Schedule C appointees report to a higher appointee.
Over the years, various nonprofit groups and scholars have recommended cutting the number of political appointees. Two months ago, a task force for the nonpartisan Twentieth Century Fund said appointments should be cut by a third.
Public policy specialist Paul C. Light, in his book "Thickening Government," indicated that the number of presidential appointees and senior executives grew from 451 in 1960 to 2,393 in 1992, a 430 percent increase.
"Presidents are fooling themselves if they believe that more senior helpers will improve their command," Light wrote. "Exactly the opposite seems to be true: more helpers clutter the message."
But Kettl noted that Congress also has been responsible for increasing the number of political appointees, because it authorizes the positions and helps organize the executive branch. Congressional committees also want to protect their jurisdiction over policies, he added.
"There is a clear stake for Congress to have political appointees to interview, to call forward," Kettl said. "There are strong incentives for Congress to keep things as they are."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company