appointees project

On May 4 and 5, 2012, Indiana University’ s School of Public and Environmental Affairs and Virginia Tech’s Center for Public Administration and Policy and School of Public and International Affairs sponsored a workshop on “Appointee Politics and the Implications for Government Effectiveness.” The workshop drew 52 guests from the Hill, policy circles, and academia for two days of discussion and debate at CPAP-Virginia Tech’s old town Alexandria campus.

See the full workshop schedule here.

Clay Johnson III, the Bush for President Transition Planner, gave the keynote speech titled, “Appointments in the President’s First Year: The Problem and Solution.” He graciously agreed to allow his remarks to be posted here as a wav sound file. Johnson’s commitment to good governance and his bird’s eye view of White House planning make him a leading voice in appointment nomination, confirmation, and vacancy reform. Johnson also served as Former Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget at the White House. Martha Kumar supplemented Johnson’s remarks with her own advice for the future presidential transition based on the experience in 2008-09.

The two-day conference also featured off-the-record insights from reform advocates on the Hill, as well as insights from leadings scholars of the administrative presidency. Some of them have agreed to allow us to post their remarks here, in hopes that they might spark new thoughts about appointee politics. For others, we expect to see the work they presented at the conference in print very soon.Among the food for thought presented at the conference, David Nixon offered this tasty morsel on New Directions in Empirical Research. His big picture remarks on where appointee research is headed build on ideas in what has become known as the Gang of Five AJPS article on Separated Powers in the United States.

Richard Waterman cautioned participants that a primary focus on PAS appointments ignores much of the diversity in appointments and may provide a distorted picture of presidential appointment politics since appointments to lower level positions may function differently. In a paper he is working on with David Lewis, Waterman examines Schedule C and SES appointments in the Bush and Obama Departments of Labor. Obtaining the resumes of lower level appointees was no easy task, but it will be essential if scholars are to measure the work and personal characteristics of appointees.

Participants from congressional committees and the Congressional Research Service focused attention on the problems of confirmation delay and vacancies, and Mark Abramson of Leadership, Inc. reminded participants of the potentially constructive role that careerists can play in fulfilling appointees’ policy objectives, and in helping appointees look before they leap. Mark is instrumental in the National Academy of Public Administration’s new appointees website, which is aimed at scholars, the media, and appointees themselves. Mark drew on his long experience in Washington, and, for his most recent book, on interviews with 24 top level Obama officials. Appointees in attendance including Thomas Weko and Mary Jo Wills added the voice of experience, recounting how appointees themselves can sometimes be called upon to manage tensions among career staff and political superiors.

Robert Durant refocused the conversation around the place of appointee politics and the administrative presidency in American government more broadly. His summary of Lynn, Heinrich, and Hill’s Governance Framework formed the spine of his remarks. In a talk that could have been called “Politicization vs. Centralization,” Andy Rudalevige portrayed presidential expansion of appointed position as part of a politicization strategy that presidents sometimes choose over a strategy of centralization of control in the White House.

In a different vein, Patrick Roberts and Matthew Dull asked whether appointees are best understood as a single category, or as multiple types. They then tested the idea by analyzing oversight appointees–inspectors general, general counsels, and CFOs–as a type of appointee with its own history and problems.

Bill Resh began the conference with a presentation on a new dataset of presidentially appointed and Senate confirmed (PAS) appointees in all departments, single-headed independent agencies, and Executive Office of the President organizations during the administrations of George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, between January 20, 1989 and January 20, 2009. Bill and colleagues compiled more than 2,300 valid observations using the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Government Accountability Office (GAO), and a variety of published sources. Bill is working on this dataset with Matthew Dull and Patrick Roberts and able research assistants. After very useful comments at the workshop on the dataset project, they hope to make the dataset widely available very soon. Stay tuned!

Another line of discussion focused on whether appointees were best seen from great heights, as patterns of large-N data, or whether appointee politics were best understood through the close observation of one or a few cases. Yet another version of the debate asked whether appointees were best studied in a snapshot of the present day, or as part of a process of an evolution of American government that produced particular virtues of political responsiveness and representation and particular problems of overt politicization, and lengthy confirmation times and vacancies.

Some scholars favored one position more than others, but Bert Rockman, Anne KhademianMartha Kumar, Marissa Golden, Karen Hult, Matthew Dickinson, and James Pfiffner all recognized that the study of appointees required these multiple perspectives.

The workshop brought together practitioners and scholars from different perspectives, and attendees reported hearing the comment below more than once, each time with the name of a different foreign tribe inserted in the blank (whether political scientists, public administration scholars, or Washington policymakers).

“Wow, these _________ really do know something about political appointees.”

Recent Posts

Hiding at the bottom of the stack

You will recall from the discussion of the mortgage interest deduction that where a credit or deduction appears on the tax form can matter deeply for how it works in practice. To some extent, it reveals how high-priority the law is.

The pros refer to this as the stacking order. Something low on the order gets taken into account after everything else, and so may demonstrate funny interactions and side-effects with items earlier in the order.

As I covered over the course of two columns, Form 3800 lists a few dozen credits, but the total general business credits one can take are limited. The first two pages of Form 3800 calculate that limit, so it’s complicated, but let’s just say that the credits are limited to 25% of taxes otherwise owed.

So say that you have 300k in investment credits, 300k in low-sulfur diesel credits, and 100k in miner rescue training, but are limited to taking only half a million in credits.

This is where the stacking order comes in. You are deemed to have taken the 300k in investment credits, 200k in diesel credits, and that’s it. The rest (100k diesel, 100k miner rescue), you can carry over to next year and maybe use then.

This means that, in practice, the credits at the bottom of the stacking order are less likely to be taken.

The difference between a credit taken and a credit not taken can be subtle. As far as the taxes for the business this year go, all that matters is that credits were taken, not what their names were.

If the firm has the same finances next year, it’ll claim the same higher-in-the-stack credits, and over time it may wind up carrying an increasing amount of diesel credits. Recall how past losses can carry over and eventually be used, or make the company a more valuable asset. The same is true of a firm carrying unused credits, with the caveat that companies that are already hitting their limit on credits have no need for more.

Or, the credits may just atrophy. They aren’t inflation adjusted, and so lose value the way anything else earning 0% interest will. Or, Congress may cancel the credit entirely. Many of these credits are renewed every year, so if Congress forgets to do its homework, or the miner rescue industry loses favor, the credit is cancelled and it’s unclear what happens to potentially years’ worth of saved-up credits.

On the other side, credits carried forward have no real, present cost. That means that the earlier credits look bigger to Congressfolk and pundits. When you read CRS reports listing total costs for different credits, a credit carried over has zero cost, so it’s the higher-up credits that are brighter blips on the radar.

In short, credits at the bottom of the stacking order are cheap, economically and politically.If you’re feeling positive, this means that the credits are very well-targeted: small companies that fit the quirk the credit addresses will get their credit, while big companies exhaust their credit usage by the time they get to line 1c, so any carryover from the credit on line 1y effectively drifts away.

This is the eighth and last essay in a series on tax subsidies that divide the population between people who benefit from the subsidy and people who have no idea that the subsidy exists (which started here). Now you know where to find a few dozen of these sorts of subsidies, and see how the system is built so that even in the cost accounting, they maintain as invisible a presence as possible.

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