December 4, 2016 at 11:40 AM
The biggest Help Wanted ad in eight years materialized in Washington Monday morning: A plum-colored paperback listing 9,000 political jobs for those who want to work in Donald Trump's administration.
The 226-page Plum Book — so called for the desirable jobs that change hands at the end of a presidential term — lists every patronage position in the executive and legislative branches that could be filled by Trump supporters. They're the policymaking and support positions that will form the spine of the real estate developer's new government, and they'll be vacated by the Obama administration by Jan. 20.
Could be filled, because the president-elect made a campaign promise to shrink the federal bureaucracy — and transition officials say he plans to make good on that pledge. Many of these positions could be abolished after Trump takes office in January.
The current tally is 2,000 jobs more than when the George W. Bush administration ended in 2008, a sign that government — at least the political positions that reward supporters — has grown over eight years.
Trump officials said it's safe to say that the entire bureaucracy, including political appointees, will be significantly scaled back. One transition official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to be candid, described recent conversations on the team as it considers how to shape the federal government in the Trump era. "Oh, they had five people doing that? We're only going to hire two," the staff has discussed, according to the official.
"In addition to imposing a hiring freeze on all federal employees, which will reduce the federal workforce through attrition, the number of political appointees will drop significantly," said Cliff Sims, a Trump spokesman. "'Drain the swamp' was not just a campaign slogan. President-elect Trump is building a streamlined, innovative government focused on serving the people, not the special interests."
The publication's 10 a.m. release Monday in hard copy at the Government Publishing Office bookstore at 710 N. Capitol St. NW and digitally at www.govinfo.gov (plus through the Plum Book App) also marks a shift in the newly elected administration's center of gravity to Washington from Midtown Manhattan.
The densely worded volume, released by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has a wonky title, "Policy and Supporting Positions," that brings to mind one of the government's more mind-numbing publications. Yet the Plum Book is a mother lode for job seekers, from ambassadors to secretaries, all over the world. The Washington Post obtained an early copy.
There will be opportunities for Trump supporters in Alabama, for example, where three U.S. Marshals are now stationed. The new administration will be looking for an assistant secretary for nuclear energy at the Energy Department and a deputy associate commissioner for systems electronic services at the Social Security Administration.
The Republic of Palau will need an ambassador, and Sudan will need a special envoy. The Postal Regulatory Commission will be hiring a commissioner. The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation will have nine openings.
There are high salaries — by government standards — and low ones. The confidential assistant in the Office of White House Liaison at the Commerce Department is now a GS-7 making somewhere between $43,684 and $56,790. The U.S. attorney for the Virgin Islands, meanwhile, brings in $160,300. Some of the many commissions listed are unsalaried, except for per diem and travel expenses.
Since his victory in November, Trump has been meeting at Trump Tower with dozens of potential picks for his new Cabinet. When their nominations are complete, the focus will turn to the transition team vetting résumés at the General Services Administration headquarters at 1800 F St. NW.
How many résumés? As of Friday, 65,800 men and women had applied to serve in the Trump administration through the website GreatAgain.gov, transition officials said.
The team's Washington operation has been quietly sifting through these applications for weeks to choose the most qualified and talented candidates, categorizing them into which agency they want to work for. The group is led by Rick Dearborn, the transition's executive director. Now Dearborn's staff will have specific jobs to match with the résumés.
Hiring decisions aren't being made just yet, though. After the Cabinet choices, a second wave of decisions will focus on positions like the secretaries of the various military branches and key deputies for the Cabinet, many of whom will require Senate confirmation. The political appointments under them and thousands of positions known as "Schedule C" jobs, for less-high-profile candidates who do not need a green light from the Senate, will come next.
The number of vacancies is subject to interpretation. While the Plum Book's foreword says it includes more than 9,000 jobs, hundreds of these are appointments, either full- or part-time, to little-known boards and commissions. Hundreds more are nonpolitical jobs occupied by civil servants — for example, those in the senior executive service. They're listed because the president could convert some of these positions to political appointments if they are vacant.
Experts in the presidential appointment process say the ones to focus on come to about 4,100.
"The real jobs are the 4,100," said Terry Sullivan, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina and executive director of the White House Transition Project, which provides information to incoming administrations, focusing on the White House.
"Almost none of the civil service jobs listed are going to turn over, but any one of them could," he said.
The 4,100 positions have grown from 3,653 just four years ago.
All of the political jobs are at will, as opposed to nonpolitical civil servants, which means they will serve at the pleasure of the president. They require political connections, which will make things interesting for a president who until now has had no federal government experience.
The plummiest positions are likely to go to retired members of Congress, defeated member of Congress, friends and associates of the president-elect and his family, top advisers and people the Cabinet appointees have worked with and trust.
Trump had a limited field operation, but the Republican National Committee brought in an extensive team of campaign workers and volunteers who would be likely candidates for some positions, if they know how to network.
The Plum Book has been a presidential ritual since the incoming Eisenhower administration produced the first comprehensive political job list in 1952. With Democrats controlling patronage jobs in the two decades before, Republicans pressed for a list of government jobs they could fill. The book appeared again in 1960 and has been published since after every presidential election.
It contains listings of jobs by department and agency, the type of appointment for each position, the names of those currently in the job, and, in many cases, salary levels. As of last summer, when the Office of Personnel Management provided the listings to the Trump and Hillary Clinton campaigns for planning purposes, some jobs were vacant.
The Plum Book has not always been plum. The cover has appeared in Sand Gray (read: brownish) and Killarney Green (read: avocado).
Not surprisingly, there's more interest when a president is about to leave office than after one term. Sales of printed copies in 2008, as Obama prepared to move into the White House, were 2,140, with 225,000 online views. In 2012, 210 copies were printed with 18,700 digital views.
Some top federal jobs, like the FBI and IRS directors, have fixed terms that won't shift with the administration. Some open positions may not be filled for months or even years.
There are several ways the number of jobs can creep up. Agencies have flexibility to create new political positions at both low and mid-levels. Congress also creates new jobs in legislation, like the Puerto Rico Oversight Commission, the International Exchange Rate Commission and the higher-profile Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which currently has one political appointee. All came into existence during the Obama administration.