- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2000

An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 of America's highest achievers are vying for some 1,000 top jobs in the Bush administration.

By all accounts, their quest for presidential nomination and Senate confirmation as senior government leaders is a monumental and disconcerting process.

To assist them, the Brookings Institution recently released a "Survivor's Guide for Presidential Nominees." The 178-page book was jointly produced by Brookings' Council for Excellence in Government and the Presidential Appointee Initiative and authored by Christopher Connell, a former journalist. It provides unusual insight into how aspirants scale the heights to powerful, prestigious administration posts.

As Mr. Connell makes clear, that's not easy. Moreover, the jobs often pay less than corporate positions and are short-lived and unfulfilling.

Presidential appointees on average last two years or less in their posts. Yet because of budget cycles, it takes about three years to "make significant change," Mr. Connell writes.

And while big government jobs may mark the high point of a career and open doors later on, "thinking of public service as a steppingstone … is a serious mistake… . It's not the way to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," a former Education Department official is reported as cautioning.

What's more, the job quest isn't necessarily eased even when a Cabinet member specifically argues for a favored candidate. Mr. Connell relates that when Health, Education and Welfare Secretary John Gardner protested to President Lyndon B. Johnson about the appointment of Mr. Gardner's aides, the president cut him off, chiding, "John here thinks I am smart enough to pick him for secretary but not smart enough to pick any of his people."

Mr. Connell quotes a former IRS commissioner who remarked: " 'The people asked to … be head of an agency are people who've done important things and feel … important… . They've been contributors … been good students in school, they've got all these A's checked off. And they are about to enter a process that says to them in a lot of ways: "You're not as good as you thought you were." ' "

Job candidates begin the quest for office by preparing and dispatching resumes, lists of references and support letters to every influential friend, colleague and acquaintance they can think of.

They want those folks to write or phone a senator, representative, association leader or corporate bigwig and propose them as a candidate for a given position. The hope is that senators and others will pepper the Office of Presidential Personnel with requests that they be nominated.

It's true that some aspirants don't need this. Like Dr. Harold Varmus, the Nobel Prize-winner who became head of the National Institutes of Health, their resumes speak loudly for them. But "most nominees cast a smaller shadow," Mr. Connell states, adding that "unlike the meek in the Bible who shall inherit the Earth, a meek executive branch aspirant risks being overlooked."

"It's very embarrassing to ask everybody you know to make phone calls on your behalf… . But you have to consider it a political campaign and just be absolutely shameless," reported Gregory Baer, a former lawyer for the Federal Reserve System who became an assistant secretary of the Treasury.

The Office of Presidential Personnel receives the pleas for aspirants and prepares a list of potential candidates for each vacancy. It then trims the lists to several finalists for the roughly 1,000 jobs that require Senate confirmation and 2,000 others needing only presidential appointment.

Well before the president makes an offer to finalists, they must verbally agree to accept the job "that way no one can say they turned down a presidential appointment," Mr. Connell explains.

Now the would-be nominees must deal with 16 different offices and officials. They must complete numerous forms requiring them to bare their personal and financial histories.

The forms for the White House, FBI, IRS, Office of Government Ethics and other agencies are long and complex, yet some must be completed within 24 hours.

But all considered, it's said that one of the biggest challenges and surprises for nominees is the need for them to personally visit members of the Senate and even the House, and make a case for confirmation one-on-one.

Those encounters can be tough and acrimonious. So, as Mr. Connell relates, veterans of the process advise it's necessary to keep a sense of humor, "remembering that it's nothing personal just politics."

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