Spoiling the spoils system

Spoiling the spoils system

by Pininvest Analysis

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The American spoils system, a winner-takes-all proposition, which, as the argument goes, is a precondition to implement the policies efficiently, as commanded by a newly elected U.S. president, entails a large number of political appointments  - around 4 000 jobs are involved

Appointments belong to distinct categories - reflecting the importance of the position in the Administation

Two categories are presidential appointments - one requiring Senate confirmation for 1 212 positions - Cabinet Secretaries and their immediate subordinates, heads of independent Agencies and ambassadors - and another which does not require confirmation of 353 positions - belonging to the Executive Office of the President

Two other categories involve appointments usually made within each agency - belonging to the Senior Executive Service - 680 positions directly below the Presidential appointees - and one last (very large) "Schedule C" category of positions in confidential or policy roles - 1 403 positions

 By executive order, President Trump established a Schedule F  category  in October 2020 within the "excepted service" for employees “in confidential, policy-determining, policy-making and policy-advocating positions”, exposing the employees to a potential loss of all or part of their civil service protections

  • the "excepted service" is not part of the competitive service or of the Senior Executive Service. Recruitment still is based primarily on a merit basis, but the agencies have their own hiring systems and evaluation criteria. Many of these agencies and positions have national security and/or intelligence functions
  • instruction was also given to transfer competitive service employees into the new job classification when they operate in such policy-determining positions

Further details can be found on Wikipedia, from which this information has been excerpted


As if the political appointments folded into the reaches of civil service were not enough, the practice of 'burrowing' - often just before a new Administration takes over - hires political appointees into civil service positions, embedding supporters of the 'old regime' in administrative functions with protections against partisan removal

Both Democrats and Republicans are familiar with the practice and current hires by the Trump Administration have been similar to the tally of previous administrations (up to now...)

However, according to ProPublica, the Ministries which implemented some of the conversions benefitting political appointees recently - Agriculture and Interior ( Environmental Protection Agency) - will be responsible for reversing the current Administration's more controversial initiatives, related to natural resources and environmental protection


Endlessly repeated, as Administrations take turns, distributing the spoils of their elusive victory to political friends, benefactors and - fortunately - also to true experts in their field - the approach to civil service management appears dubious at best, and Schedule F the ultimate symbol of the low regard in which civil service is held in America

More questionable still is the fall-out nurtured by this large cohort of political assistants, shuttling back and forth - seeding an endless stream of think tanks, legal boutiques and lobbies when they happen to be out of power and reverting to their official 'alma mater' to refresh their CVs when the times comes...

...none of which seems especially advantageous to public service, or to civil service carriers in general

Maybe it is too much to suggest audacious reform by the incoming Administration when thousands are already packing their bags - if they are not fighting for the positions in government to which they feel entitled

But maybe a step, which would be seen as radical by so many entitled hierarchs, is precisely the leverage needed to confront Republican powerbrokers and open the field for bipartisan reform

Just maybe a 'draining the swamp' of sorts ..?