LCWINS

Serving on Federal Boards and Commissions

Summary

  • Federal boards and commissions are comprised of subject-matter experts or others with relevant skills or experiences who provide advice to government decision-makers on a part-time, non-compensated basis. 
  • Serving in a part-time appointment on a board or commission can be a stepping stone to full-time appointments and an opportunity to widen networks in government and other sectors. 
  • In order to secure an appointment, it is important to reach out to key stakeholders in the board and committee process. Through speaking with current or former board and committee members, prospective candidates can glean information on the skills and expertise relevant, find out about open positions, and signal their interest. Sponsorship is helpful, as current and former members may be able to provide references for vacant positions

Resources

  • For agency-level information on boards and commissions, reference the FACA Database website (facadatabase.gov).
  • LCWINS’ comprehensive compilation of federal boards and commissions that might be of interest to national security practitioners and experts is available here
  • The Plum Book may also have useful information, though we found their list to be less complete than the White House Join Us page.
List of NatSec Boards

The information below was compiled by LCWINS from a range of sources and is attributable only to LCWINS except where otherwise noted. Many thanks to the incredible speakers during our webinar whose expertise helped guide the compilation of this information: Allyson Solomon, Sarah Morgenthau, Karen Tandy, and Jonathan McBride. Special thanks also to Heather Yang Hwalek for her work on all LCWINS webinars and related resources.

What is the purpose and landscape of federal boards and commissions?

Boards and commissions provide the White House and agencies subject matter expertise, consultation and recommendations on decision-making. The White House manages a number of Presidential Boards and Commissions. Our best resource for the list of such opportunities is the White House Join Us page. Agency-level advisory committees are governed by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The best resource for researching each of those committees is FACAdatabase.gov

There are several boards and commissions across a range of government agencies and organizations. Boards and commissions originating at the White House are coordinated through the Office of Presidential Personnel (PPO). Other boards are primarily run through agencies, with department secretaries as their “customers.” Because there are so many boards and commissions, there is a constant need for filling vacancies. Administrations typically pivot to focus on boards and commissions after they complete the bulk of priority full-time appointments. 

Boards and commissions can be a lot of work and require a range of skills and experience from a diverse group of subject matter experts. 

What is the process for getting appointed to a board or commission?

The process varies across different agencies, organizations, and specific boards/commissions. 

At the Department of Defense (DoD), committees are appointed by the Secretary of Defense. There is typically a solicitation period in which interested candidates can provide their resume. Solicitations are published in federal advisory, provided to the military services, and shared amongst networks. If interested in a DoD committee, it is useful to have a network of people who are able to share open solicitations. Once solicitations are received, potential candidates are reviewed and vetted for available positions. 

Other agencies do not necessarily have an established process. If you are interested in a board or commission it will be useful to talk to people within that organization’s ecosystem, such as the leadership making selections, other board and committee members, the executive director, etc. 

One potential entry point to serving on a board or commission is by joining a subcommittee, (many boards and commissions have these). Working on a subcommittee allows an individual the opportunity to showcase their work to key stakeholders such as committee chairs, members of Congress, and others in government. Service on a subcommittee can lead to full membership on the primary board or commission. 

Since administrations are focused on filling their full-time appointments, the process for filling board and committee appointments typically occurs after the first 100 days of an administration. Boards and commissions that address topics associated with the administration’s policy agenda will typically be prioritized. 

Finally, board and committee membership is additive. You can still do your full-time job and be a part of a board. As part of the selection process and annually thereafter, you will have to prepare an OGE 450 Confidential Financial Disclosure Form to verify that you have no conflicts of interest.  Depending on the nature of the board or commission, a national security clearance also may be required, which would require you to file a detailed SF-86 and submit to a  government background investigation.

What are qualifications for joining a board or commission?

Boards and committees are searching for a range of qualifications and skill sets. In general, they are searching for an individual with subject matter expertise that will contribute to the work and help accomplish tasks of the board or commission. Boards and commissions need experts and strategists, but also need people who can get work done. Research the board to determine what the work is like and what they might need, in order to determine if you are a good fit.

Is U.S. Citizenship a requirement for eligibility?

Technically, no. In practice, most likely yes. For any position requiring a security clearance (likely all foreign policy and national security positions), U.S. citizenship is required. In this case, applicants would need to fill out an SF-86 form to apply for security clearance. However, requirements vary across boards and commissions. 

Can I serve if I’m in a different political party of the current administration?

Yes. Boards and commissions are nonpartisan. Some even have bipartisan representation requirements. Nevertheless, these are political appointments and the White House will either control or have input into many of these selections. 

What are tips for obtaining a position on one of these boards or commissions?

There is no direct path to getting on a board or commission, but subject matter expertise is key. If you are interested, look and see who is currently serving on the board or commission. Investigate the subcommittees and offer your assistance. Cast a wide net when searching for a board or committee. Learn the ecosystem of who the board and commission uses as resources and for previous testimonies to help determine how you will fit. Finally, think about the value you can bring to the board or commission such as your reach and access to different populations. This can be useful for roll outs and statements on behalf of the board or commission.

Expectations for Board Members

There are a range of rules and guidelines for what members can do that are specific to the board or commission.

Do you need to live in DC to be a member? 

No. Meetings are typically all day briefings and the board or commission will fly you out for the meeting. They will pay for associated travel. 

Are members compensated monetarily? 

No, except for official travel. 

Some other things to be aware of…

You are considered an official government employee which commits you to government ethics and record keeping. 

Some positions require you to have a clearance. If you have never completed an SF-86 it would be useful to get familiar with those requirements ahead of the process. At the very least, you will undergo a federal background check.

There may be some conflict of interest provisions that may require recusal or divestment. 

Members of boards and commissions will be Hatch Act restricted, which would preclude some forms of involvement in political activity. 

Once on the board, familiarize yourself with the rules and guidelines. There are rules and guidelines for an array of topics such as your ability to speak about the board or commission work. There are typically strict rules on what can be discussed before official reports or items for the record are approved and released.


Why does this matter now?

So far in the Biden Administration, boards and commissions have not received priority for appointments, as the relevant offices are still focusing on full-time appointments. Now that we are past the first 100 days, we may see them begin to populate boards and commissions. 

On January 30, 2021, Secretary of Defense Austin issued a zero-based review of all Department of Defense advisory committees (read the full release here) to determine if they are still meeting the mission requirements and accessing if they are in-line with policy priorities. This review removed all board members and is starting each committee from an empty slate. This is good news for those interested in joining a committee. 

Absent a zero-based review, committees would be partially filled with members in the middle of their terms and there were fewer vacancies. It was historic good practice to let individuals complete their appointments in agency level boards and committees. However, presidential appointments always reset at the end of an administration. Other agencies are executing similar zero-based reviews across a range of boards and committees which will allow for increased opportunities outside of the Department of Defense as well. 


How are boards recruiting diverse talent?

Boards and committees, especially those that are presidentially appointed, are appointed with intentionality to ensure candidates are selected from diverse backgrounds. Most boards and committees will likely start with a first wave of known candidates to get the board or committee up and running. This will force a particular emphasis on diversity for the remainder of the vacancies. Overall, those responsible for filling boards and committees cast a wide net which will help increase diverse candidates. 

Often diversity is reflected in the occupational backgrounds of board members. LCWINS is working to encourage the Administration to consider gender and racial diversity, as well as other important categories, in board and commission appointments from the outset. 

Do you have further questions or ideas for future webinars? Please let us know! Contact info@LCWINS.org.