Center Blog

Help Wanted: 4,000 Presidential Appointees

March 16, 2016

Zach Piaker, Associate, Partnership for Public Service

Please note: the numbers below are from the 2012 Plum Book. Regarding Schedule C and Non-career SES positions, these numbers represent the total as of the summer of 2012. In December 2016, the Government Publishing Office released the 2016 Plum Book which lists more than 4,000 political appointments, of which more than 1,200 require Senate confirmation.

More than 4,000 political appointees, many of whom hold important leadership and policymaking positions, will be heading out the door next year with the change in administrations. Finding qualified people to fill these jobs is an enormous undertaking, but it is critically important to making the federal government work effectively for the American public.

There are four basic types of appointments:

  • Presidential Appointments with Senate Confirmation (PAS): There are 1,212 senior leaders, including the Cabinet secretaries and their deputies, the heads of most independent agencies and ambassadors, who must be confirmed by the Senate. These positions first require a Senate hearing in addition to background checks and other vetting.
  • Presidential Appointments without Senate Confirmation (PA): There are 353 PA positions which make up much of the White House staff, although they are also scattered throughout many of the smaller federal agencies.
  • Non-career Senior Executive Service (NA): Members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) work in key positions just below the top presidential appointees, bridging the gap between the political leaders and the civil service throughout the federal government. Most SES members are career officials, but up to 10 percent of the SES can be political appointees. (For more information see the Office of Personnel Management’s website.) There are 680 non-career members of the SES.
  • Schedule C Appointments (SC): There are 1,403 Schedule C appointees who serve in a confidential or policy role. They range from schedulers and confidential assistants to policy experts.

Source: Plum Book, Government Printing Office, December

Among other things, the chart below shows high numbers of PAS positions in the State and Justice Departments. That’s due to the hundreds of ambassadors, U.S. Attorneys, and U.S. Marshals, all of whom require Senate confirmation. You can also see that nearly a third of the total number of PA positions are concentrated in the Executive Office of the President.

The scale and breadth of the task of making so many critical appointments is daunting, and underscores the need for transition teams to get started early in order to fully staff the leadership of the next administration.

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