Political Appointees in Federal Agencies

T-GGD-90-4: Published: Oct 26, 1989. Publicly Released: Oct 26, 1989.

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GAO discussed the number and placement of career Senior Executive Service (SES), noncareer SES, and Schedule C appointees in the federal government. GAO noted that: (1) the number of political appointments tends to be cyclical, with the number of appointees reaching its lowest point just after a new president takes office and reaching its highest point in the middle of a presidential term; (2) the Reagan administration had almost 400 more political appointees than the Carter administration; (3) career SES membership dropped slightly between 1979 and 1987, but then rose by about 500 by June 1989; (4) the Department of Education experienced atypically sharp fluctuations in its political appointee population; (5) agencies converted a total of 86 political appointees to career positions between 1987 and March 1989; and (6) the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce and the Office of the Secretary of Defense had the highest aggregate numbers of political appointees as of June 1989. GAO believes that: (1) the increased number of political appointees reduces career executives' involvement in mission-related activities and their advancement opportunities; (2) lack of program stability and an increased need for personnel orientation result from political appointees' short tenures; and (3) because of the current low population of political appointees and noncareer SES executives, the new administration has an excellent opportunity to carefully assess the number of noncareer senior executives it realistically needs.

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