January 28, 2020

Presidential transition teams need accurate data to fill federal jobs

The 2020 presidential campaign is well underway as the first primaries and caucuses rapidly approach. Soon, presidential hopefuls will need to assemble a team to plan a transition — either to a new administration or a second term.

One of the most important tasks for any administration is filling more than 4,000 political appointments. Yet, as Amanda Patarino recently wrote in the Kennedy School Review, progress is hampered for transitions teams because official listings and data about these positions is often problematic and unreliable.

One of the primary sources of information about political appointments is the Plum Book, published by Congress and the Government Publishing Office after each presidential election. Unfortunately, as Patarino points out, data in the Plum Book is often “outdated, unreliable and cumbersome.” The information is hard to understand even for Washington insiders, adding to the challenge for government to attract the best talent from across the country. Both federal agencies and transition teams would benefit from official data that is in user-friendly formats and updated consistently.

The Center for Presidential Transition and the Washington Post provide an appointment tracker that can help transition teams understand the appointment process. The tracker, which is updated weekly, chronicles the nominations of more than 740 key Senate-confirmed positions. Even small improvements to data on government positions and the Plum Book will benefit both transition teams and federal agencies. And the public benefits from improved transparency and real-time information.