- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2001

Some time ago in the pre-Clinton era, I was honored by a request from the then-Undersecretary of Defense Fred Ikle to become one of his consultants. I agreed. A week later I received a large package from the Defense Department. Inside was a form letter and a multi-page application form which I was to fill out.
As I rifled through the many, many pages, I was appalled at some of the questions which I could not have answered without days of personal research or hiring a private detective. List all the addresses where I'd ever lived, said one part of the questionnaire. I had moved around a lot and so had my parents. I couldn't possibly answer that question accurately and as I looked around other parts of the form I knew I would have had to spend a week going through past records (if I could find them) to answer the questions. It was like preparing the skeleton of an autobiography. I had never kept a diary after the age of 16 so I had no detailed story of my life and hard times to examine.
I phoned Dr. Ikle and asked him was there any way of avoiding filling out this form and if there wasn't could I just be an unpaid consultant with free advice, no per diem, no travel expenses? Couldn't be done, was the reply, because I had to get security clearance to read classified documents. That ended that.
Mine was a minor difficulty compared to high-level appointments up to Cabinet rank. I have been told of a newspaper report that one Cabinet-level official spent at least $200,000 in accounting and legal fees so that he could frame his answers fully and correctly. Several recent appointees have told me that it takes a minimum of a week if you do nothing else to fill out the forms. One high-level appointee said it took her two weeks to answer the questionnaire.
And then comes the FBI investigation. Anywhere from five to 10 agents will be assigned to do a field check of the replies, a procedure which may take weeks. Dozens of people will be interviewed in the search for any information that might be derogatory or compromising.
So having filled out the forms and having been checked out by the FBI are you through? Oh, no, if yours is an appointment which must be confirmed by the Senate, there are new forms to fill out, new material to be supplied like if you're a writer, please send copies of every article you've ever written; if you're a lecturer, every speech you've ever made.
Then if you've passed all that, depending on the appointment level, you have to sell all your stock and, if you're lucky, pay a whopping capital gains tax. The "blind trust" gambit comes into play only after you've sold your portfolio. One person told me that he would have liked to accept an invitation to serve in the new administration, but it would have meant a cut in salary of $130,000, something he and his growing family could not afford plus, fortunate fellow, paying a hefty capital gains tax.
Another official pointed to a question as to whether he had ever belonged to an organization which discriminated. Well, there are the Boy Scouts, which discriminate, the National Press Club, which used to discriminate and I once belonged to the Reform Club in London, which discriminated against women.
This whole business has a distasteful "gotcha" atmosphere. Neighbors are asked to tell all they know about the appointee, unconfirmed rumors included. Old boyfriends or girlfriends are sought out for what they know. I was once asked by an FBI agent investigating an appointee whether I thought he was a communist because he had supported the Spanish Loyalists. I had to point out that I was the wrong man to ask that question since I, too, had supported the Loyalists.
We didn't like it when it was called McCarthyism; why still practice this kind of snooping when the Soviet empire is no more? In the days of the Cold War, careful checking of appointees to sensitive federal posts was understandable. People then were more than willing to take salary cuts and suffer other inconveniences as their patriotic duty in the resistance to Soviet imperialism. But the Cold War has been over for a decade and whatever problems the United States is having with the Kremlin are nothing compared to the war-threatening confrontations we used to have with the Soviet Union. The time has come to alter these vetting procedures which discourage otherwise eligible candidates from leaving the private sector and entering public service.

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