June 24, 2021

Five questions about serving on federal boards, commissions and advisory committees

By Heather Yang Hwalek

This post is part of the Partnership’s Ready to Serve series. Ready to Serve is a centralized resource for people who aspire to serve in a presidential administration as a political appointee.

Part-time federal advisory boards, commissions and committees are important parts of the federal government that generally receive little attention. Joining one of these groups is a great way for experienced individuals to engage in public service even if they do not hold a full-time government position.

The Leadership Council on Women in National Security (LCWINS) recently hosted a webinar on the subject. Below are five important questions and answers that explain how interested people can seek out opportunities to serve.

  1. What are federal advisory boards and commissions?

Federal advisory boards and commissions are groups of subject matter experts convened by the executive branch to provide advice and recommendations to the president, agency heads, and other staff. There are roughly 1,000 boards or commissions across the government, and service is part-time and non-compensated. The Federal Advisory Committee Act is the controlling statute for the formation and administration of agency-level boards and commissions.

  1. How do I find what opportunities exist to serve?

There is no comprehensive list of all of these opportunities. LCWINS compiled a list of national security-related boards and commissions along with a FAQ document. The list was compiled primarily from the website and the White House’s Join Us page. Those interested in serving on a board or commission can start with a list of groups governed by the Federal Advisory Committee Act that is overseen by the General Services Administration.

  1. How do I apply?

Different boards and commissions have different processes. Some are presidentially appointed and some are appointed at the agency level. Some take direct applications, some work through nominations and some are staffed through appointments that are less transparent. To express interest and gain support for any opportunities that interest you, it is important to reach out to relevant stakeholders and members of that board or commission’s “ecosystem.”

  1. What is it like to serve on one of these boards, commissions or committees?

During the LCWINS webinar, panelists highlighted that serving on a board or commission is an opportunity to provide advice to government decision makers and help inform policy from an outside perspective. Service is also an opportunity to connect with other subject matter experts in the field. Many boards and commissions have subcommittees whose membership is broader than the main body. Service on such a subcommittee is another way to get involved.

Serving on a federal advisory board or commission can be hard work and may require a security clearance (see form SF-86), vetting from the White House or a certification that a member has no conflicts of interest.

  1. Is it worth it?

Federal advisory boards and committees offer an opportunity for public service as an alternative to a full-time career or political appointments. The advice and recommendations of external subject matter experts strengthen policymaking. Those who have served in these positions endorse them resoundingly and say they are a great way to use one’s knowledge and experience to serve their country.

Heather Yang Hwalek coordinates the LCWINS webinar program and has a decade of national security experience with the federal government. LCWINS is an organization of women and allies from across the political spectrum working to advance gender inclusion at the highest levels of the U.S. national security and foreign policy workforce.