Center Blog

Insights into Choosing the Right Political Appointees

June 15, 2016

Shalini Hicklin-Coorey, Fellow, Partnership for Public Service

Appointing the right people to the right jobs is the bedrock for a successful presidential administration. Sourcing the best talent and matching their skills to the most suitable positions is vital for a smooth transition and effective administration. How does a new administration go about doing this?

Succeeding as a Political Executive, authored by Mark A. Abramson and Paul R. Lawrence, offers 50 insights drawn from the experiences of 65 political executives in the Obama administration. Their first three insights hone in on the recipe for successful appointments.

Insight 1: All Jobs Are Not the Same. It is important to distinguish between a policy position and a management position, each of which requires different skills. People interested in defining and debating policy may well be frustrated by the challenges of implementing those policies, and those responsible for implementation may have little patience for endless policy debates. Secondly, for management positions, evidence suggests it is helpful to distinguish between production, regulatory and scientific agencies.

Insight 2: Match the Right Set of Experiences to Each Position. Those being considered for administration appointments usually come with impressive resumes. The real challenge is to match broad experience with the requirements of the job in question. It is important to recognize that the ideal candidates for some administration jobs may not be a good fit for the next, and this may depend on a new president’s priorities.

Insight 3: Know That Relevant Experience Really Matters. Government departments are large organizations, so pertinent management experience is critical. For example, it’s important to know whether a potential appointee has the relevant experience managing during a crisis.

The Partnership for Public Service, as part of it’s Ready to Govern initiative, and the National Academy of Public Administration, as part of its Political Appointee Project, hosted the authors and a panel of current political appointees to share their experiences.

The current federal executives offered advice to incoming appointees, including taking the time to listen, the need to ask for advice from prior officeholders, and the importance of reaching out and partnering with career staff to move the administration’s agenda forward.

The Center for Presidential Transition platform includes a specific timeline of activities and resources for appointments teams to help them staff effectively.


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