- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2001

Few private sector companies would lay off 6,000 workers in one year. Fewer still would hire another 6,000 to replace them in the following months.

Leave it to the federal government to execute such a complex undertaking every four or eight years. As of noon on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 6,000 political appointees will be getting their pink slips, though many will have already vacated their offices.

The Clinton appointees, from Cabinet secretaries to assistants, head to Capitol Hill, nonprofits or the private sector. They depart knowing their work may be reversed, or at least altered, by the GOP faithful who come to take their place.

Those faithful, 42,000 strong as of last week, have sent their applications into the Bush/Cheney transition office, vying for coveted positions with the first Republican administration in eight years. They will have to fill out complicated security and disclosure forms, and 600 will be drilled in Senate conformation hearings.

Then there are the 1.2 million other workers in the federal government the civil servants who see their bosses change every few years. They have an attitude of inevitability, plugging along knowing it is each administration's prerogative to change policy and programs.

Mary Trupo, a political appointee who serves as assistant to the secretary of the Department of Transportation and director of public affairs, says the president's call to service is hard to ignore.

"[It's rewarding] to know that what you're doing and how you do it and your integrity and the hard work you put into things is going to affect hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of lives," she says.

Out with the old…

Ms. Trupo, like many of her colleagues, was drawn into government because of party and candidate connections. Now that her tenure is complete, she is looking back toward the corporate world, but she plans to continue to be a political volunteer.

She worked for Eastman Kodak for 13 years, most recently in public affairs. Politics has been her side-passion: she volunteered on President Clinton's 1992 campaign, then took a leave of absence to work on the 1996 effort.

"I really got hooked on President Clinton," she says. "Once I got a flavor and a taste and got pulled into [the campaign], there was really no looking back."

Ms. Trupo, 40, was appointed during the beginning of the president's second term in 1997, and moved from the Department of Commerce to a brief detail at the White House before Transportation.

Now she's packing up and moving on.

Three months ago, under the direction of Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, staffers began preparing for the transition, deciding what information to pass on and how to present it. The team also compiled an accomplishments report and listed upcoming issues.

They were trying to strike a balance between "dumping them with files and files" and "heading to the shredder," Ms. Trupo says.

The fact that Commerce Department Secretary Norman Mineta is switching to Transportation should help ease the transition, she says.

Ms. Trupo is well aware of the risk that new political appointees may change the programs, not to mention the style, or her department.

"There's a certain almost sadness because you're walking away from some things that you wish you could have stayed and fought for," she says.

"We're hopeful that the next administration will see those things through."

She's now exploring her options back in the private sector, and hopes to stay in the Washington area.

Romulo L. Diaz Jr., another political appointee, decided at the end of the December he would retire from the government rather than reapply for a civil service position.

"I'm not clear yet on what the next position is going to be, but I'm sure something is going to work out," he says.

After nearly two decades as a civil servant, Mr. Diaz, 54, became an appointee, the assistant administrator of administration and resources management at the Environmental Protection Agency.

As a first-generation American and the first in his family to attend college, Mr. Diaz was proud to have his parents look on during his confirmation ceremony in October 1998.

His mother, a Mexican immigrant, passed away this year, and his Venezuelan father, a hearty 80-year-old, still lives and works in Texas, where Mr. Diaz was born.

Mr. Diaz oversees EPA contracts, grants and facilities, as well as employee health and safety programs and human resources issues. He also deals with lab construction plans, trying to mandate energy-efficient buildings in line with EPA goals.

Like Ms. Trupo, he is a bit apprehensive about the changes his successor will make, but he works on the management side, so they should be minimal.

"To be very honest, in our system of government I'm very comfortable with the notion that the American people have the opportunity every four years to make the decisions about who's going to be running the government," he says. He feels that if the new leadership wants to modify something, so be it.

Mr. Diaz is in a fairly unique position as someone who has worked as a civil servant and a political appointee, two types of workers who occasionally clash.

"My conclusion is that both the career and the political appointees in any agency need to work closely together to be effective, to accomplish whatever the administration is setting out to do," he says.

Hanging in

Another scenario uncommon at a private company: when there are layoffs, management gets the boot while thousands of lower-level workers retain their jobs.

Again, that's the case with the government. The 6,000 political appointees, most of whom hold senior positions, constitute a mere 0.3 percent of the federal workforce. While there are upper managers in the civil service, the majority are not high-level employees.

To add to the logistical difficulty, it takes an average of 61/2 to 7 months from the first call from the incoming president to the swearing-in ceremony. That means civil servants could be without direction from their new bosses for half a year.

It could be as late as February or March 2002 before the Bush government is entirely in place, according to Paul Light, vice president of governmental studies at the Presidential Appointee Initiative, part of the Brookings Institution, a left-leaning think tank.

"I've been in a situation for the last 16 years where I've worked for five different secretaries of agriculture," says Keith Collins, chief economist at the Department of Agriculture. He has been with the agency since 1977.

"For us, there's always some uncertainty about what's going to happen when there's a change in administration, even within a party," he says.

In 1988, for example, the incoming secretary took the resignations of everyone in the subcabinet undersecretaries, assistant secretaries and the general counsel.

Mr. Collins, 53, says he's weathered the changes in administration by knowing he can provide factual, not political, information on the agricultural economy and farm markets.

He says civil servants have to remain fairly impartial as a condition of their jobs.

"If they're going to perform effectively as civil servants and get promoted and retain their positions, they have to set aside their political goals and try to be objective supporters of their boss," he says.

Melissa Allen, an assistant secretary for administration at Transportation, echoes his view. She is acting as a transition manager, setting up meetings with the president-elect's team and keeping both sides informed.

She says her department is more nonpartisan than others, making the change less traumatic.

"[Transportation] is a problem or challenge that everybody recognizes," she says.

Ms. Allen, 54, has been with the government for 33 years, starting as a management intern with the Department of the Navy, then moving to the Treasury and Office of Management and Budget before landing with Transportation in 1986.

She says even though programs she has worked on will not survive in name, they will probably carry on in some form.

For example, she heads One DoT, an initiative Mr. Slater created to work more collaboratively within the department and with its partners. She expects that effort to continue.

"The change is a bit stressful, not as stressful as it is for the appointees," she says.

… In with the new

Pictures of smiling faces black, while, female, male greet visitors who peek into the Bush/ Cheney transition office's resume sorting room.

These are the party devotees who have sent their images along with their job qualifications to work for the new administration.

They may not know what they are getting into.

The process is not only stressful for the outgoing appointees, who have to find jobs. The incoming potential staffers must undergo what one observer calls "an obstacle course."

Alvin Felzenberg, director of the Mandate for Leadership for 2000 project at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, says applicants, depending on the position they seek, have to fill out separate forms for a Federal Bureau of Investigation background check, the White House personnel office, the Office of Government Ethics, the Internal Revenue Service, and a Senate committee if confirmation is required.

"The founding fathers would never have tolerated the process that has emerged over the last 10 to 15 years," says Mr. Light of Brookings.

He says outdated FBI forms ask for an applicant's mother-in-law's birthplace, for example. And as each administration has faced a new appointee scandal, the White House has added questions to its form to stave off a repeat embarrassment.

One-half of Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton appointees sought outside help such as attorneys or accountants to get through the process. One-fifth spent more than $5,000, Mr. Light says.

None of this has deterred Paul Janiczek, 26, an enthusiastic former Hill staffer who in early December quit his job as a congressional aide to volunteer at the Bush/Cheney transition office.

He applied for a Schedule C job with the Department of Defense, which doesn't require as much paperwork or a Senate confirmation as higher positions, and hopes his experience with the transition team will put him over the top.

He got a taste of what it means to be a high-profile appointee one day when he was returning with lunch to the transition office, then in McLean. Little did he know the Supreme Court had issued a stay on the Florida vote recount.

Media photographers caught a surprised Mr. Janiczek carrying his salad.

He definitely qualifies as party faithful. He got involved with politics at Frostburg State University in Western Maryland, where he was the vice president of the Young Republicans, and worked on Timothy Mayberry's campaign for comptroller of Maryland.

He graduated and worked at a technology company for a short while "for somebody of my ideals, totally unfulfilling" then got a job with the House Transportation Committee.

He gradually became a fan of George W. Bush, the clincher being his speech at the Republican convention.

"He may not know who I am, but I'll have worked for him" he says.

He'll find out if he gets a job in anywhere from two weeks to two months.

"That's the thing that's killing me at the moment," he says.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide