LCWINS

LCWINS Webinar #2: Political Appointments 101

Notes and Q&A

Below are answers to the questions we received during the Webinar on September 1, 2020.  These answers were drafted in conversation with the panelists after the session.  The opinions below are meant to help inform women who are interested in senior political appointments, but are reflective of only a few viewpoints and may be contradicted by other advice from other sources. This page is also available as a downloadable Google Doc here.

Overarching Notes

“The Three Legs of the Stool” -- Success in the process requires the support of all three “legs of the stool.”

  • The Office of Presidential Personnel at the White House (PPO) is the central coordinating body for political appointments.  
  • The White House Liaison Office (WHLO) is responsible for coordinating political appointments at the department or agency-level.  
  • The Hiring Manager is a senior appointee at the department or agency who is responsible for supervising the role being considered.  For example, the Under Secretary for the Assistant Secretaries who report to her/him.  

Resources:

  • The Partnership for Public Service Center for Presidential Transition Ready to Serve website is an amazing and up-to-date resource.  
  • LCWINS’ compilation of other helpful online resources is available here.

Transition/Campaign Questions

What is the role that policy working groups on the campaign play in Transition decisions?  How do you signal your interest in appointment to the Transition Team?

Do not call senior campaign officials about joining the Biden-Harris Transition Team.  It is likely too late to be involved. Unless you’re already connected it is difficult to access this very small team.  They are moving very fast and often don't have the bandwidth for individuals to contact them.  Groups assembling lists are the best way to get in front of them.  

Transition is really focused on Cabinet-level positions, deputies, and the people who must be in place on day one.  Everyone else will be sourced through the White House office of Presidential Personnel, including the vast majority of Senate-confirmed positions.

In the Trump Administration, since everyone is already in place, you do not need to work through the campaign or transition; signaling interest should be done according to the advice below.

Either campaign is a great way to show support for the candidate and to network and meet people who are likely to become major players in the next Administration.  Transition and campaign policy working groups work in close coordination.  At this time, policy working groups on both campaigns appear to be closed.  There is ample room on both campaigns for people interested in supporting in other ways.  

Where should you target your donation?  The candidate?  DNC/RNC?

Showing enthusiasm for the candidate is most helpful.  Being a part of the campaign is likely more important than donating for many positions.  Historically, certain roles such as specific Ambassadorships have gone to major donors, but in general donation is mostly a signal of support for the candidate.

These jobs are highly competitive with large pools of people for consideration.  It is a game of exclusion for the decision-makers (the “three legs of the stool”), so it is in your interest not to give them an excuse to exclude you.  

What if you cannot join the campaign?

If you cannot join the Biden campaign because you are a registered lobbyist, you may consider deregistering and “cleansing” for a year, if you are committed to pursuing a political appointment.  The Biden campaign has signaled that there will be strict rules about lobbyists for political appointments, and waivers may not be considered.

The Trump Administration and Trump campaign have not established rules related to lobbying and other ethics considerations in their political appointment decisions.  

If you cannot join the campaign for other reasons, you may want to reconsider those reasons.  Some perceived impediments are not actual legal impediments.  The best way to signal your support for the candidate is to work on the campaign.  

If you are on the campaign, what’s the best way to position yourself for an appointment?

Work hard and do a good job.  Find a few key people, and if the opportunity arises, let them know that, if asked, you’d be very interested in an appointment (and give them a sense of your specific interest).  Do not blast out your interest; keep it to just a few key people.  If there are mentorship opportunities within the campaign, your mentor might be a good person to confide in.  

Overall Qualifications

What qualifications make someone more competitive?  

People with agency experience, disaster relief and specialized skills (e.g. accounting) are likely to be selected at the early stages.  The more likely you are to be able to hit the ground running based on your past experience, the better your chances might be in the initial round.

In a potential Biden Administration, diversity will be at a premium, including gender, racial/ethnic, disability, LGBTQ and other forms of diversity.  Although LCWINS continues its balanced outreach to relevant Biden and Trump teams, the reception from the Trump side has not allowed us to opine about whether diversity will be prioritized as strongly in a second Trump administration.  

Experience is critical.  Previous government experience and having previously successfully obtained a political appointment will be advantages.  However, government experience is not a prerequisite.  Interested people with significant government experience often make the mistake of highlighting their qualifications above their commitment to the candidate and expressing an understanding that the role of a political appointee is to serve as an extension of the White House and the policy positions of the President.  

How much time is saved by people who already have clearances or have previously been appointed.

Having already had a clearance, you can get through the process faster.  However, people’s life circumstances (including their financial situation and their affiliations) can change, which can dramatically affect the time associated with clearances and vetting.  This is not a silver bullet.  

What information should you include in your application?

Applications for political appointment in the Trump Administration (now or in the second term) can be submitted to: apply.whitehouse.gov.  There is currently no website accepting applications for consideration to serve in the Biden Administration.  If Vice President Biden is elected, an application portal will likely be created by the Transition Team and could be available as early as November.  The database for the Trump Administration (populated through apply.whitehouse.gov) will not be passed to the next Administration if Vice President Biden is elected.  

Your submission should not include a USAJobs-style resume.  They are hard to read.  Instead, you should ensure that keywords associated with the titles of positions you are interested in are featured in your submission.  Presidential Personnel staff are likely to use those keywords while searching their database of applicants.  

Is U.S. Citizenship a requirement?

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.  

Outreach and Signaling Interest to the “Three Legs of the Stool”

Who needs to approve a candidate for political appointment?

There are three legs of the stool:

  1. the White House Office of Presidential Personnel (PPO);
  2. the Hiring Manager (a political appointee at the department/agency who supervises the position sought); and
  3. the White House Liaison at the department/agency.  
How do you apply?
  • Trump Administration: apply.whitehouse.gov.  The URL is likely to remain the same for the second Trump Administration.
  • Biden Administration: there is no application portal yet.  If Vice President Biden wins, there will likely be a Transition website with a place to submit your interest and resume.  

Names collected by the Trump Administration through the White House website will not be passed on to the Biden Administration.  

What is the best way to approach Transition/PPO if you’re interested in a role, especially if you’re not able to be involved in a campaign?  How do you make contact?  

You need to go through connected people.  Cold calling is not going to work.  The office is not likely to have capacity to answer those requests.  The best approach is to find champions and have them convey your interest.  

If you do have the opportunity to speak directly with PPO or a White House Liaison, be direct.  There isn’t an advantage to being coy in that circumstance; especially in the time of COVID they will appreciate your respect of their time.  

Is there a benefit to being on multiple lists?  How much individual outreach should I be doing?

Be on as many lists as you can.  The same doesn’t go for individual outreach.  Individuals can be too aggressive with too much outreach.

Should you specify the positions you are interested in, or should you signal maximum flexibility?  What’s the right balance?  

This is a false dichotomy.  You can signal that you won’t be linear or rigid about it and also that there are jobs that you think you’d be particularly good for.  PPO and the White House Liaison will need to know where you would be best placed in order to know what to do with you as a candidate.  

It is most useful to signal areas of expertise and policy areas you seek to impact.  You should be willing to sit in any seat related to those areas of interest.  Figure out every part of government that leads to the outcomes you seek to impact.  In your current position, it might be helpful to interface with those parts of government now to build connections, experience, expertise and credibility.  

Who else should I be reaching out to?

PPO and the White House Liaison may reach out to people who have previously held a position to better understand the job and who would be most successful in it.  If you are able to, reaching out to those people and indicating that you are interested in serving could be helpful.  

If you have served before, let the key civil service leaders in your field know.  They are highly influential and may have an opportunity to recommend folks.  They will also be key allies if you are successful in obtaining an appointment.

In the Trump Administration, current and former holders of positions you are interested in can help guide your outreach.  For a potential Biden Administration, once the Administration spins up there will be more people and places to interconnect.

Cover all your bases but also don’t overthink the strategy because there is no strategy.  There is a lot of luck involved, which you cannot control for.

Do you have specific advice for current civil servants who seek political appointment in their department/agency?

There are many civil servants who make this transition.  If you become political, you do relinquish your career status, though in some cases it is possible to go back.  In practice people often move on from their political appointment and they do not seek to go back.  It is critical that folks who are trying to make the switch understand the difference in qualifications and expectations.  These positions are not simply further advancement in a linear career progression; you should be able to answer questions about why you seek to serve that Administration and that President.  

Sometimes you have to leave to come back.  Getting outside of government and building your expertise and profile in the field may make you more competitive for certain positions.  This is true also for political appointees in less senior positions but hope to make the jump to more senior roles.

What if you’re interested in a White House position; how is the process different?

PPO and White House Liaisons do not handle White House staff, with a few limited exceptions.  Many White House staff are detailed from agencies and departments.  They handled OSTP, CEQ, ONDCP.  For example, senior National Security appointees typically come from the campaign or have served as White House officials previously.  Those people are often hand-picked from close contacts of the campaign and transition, especially at the beginning of an Administration.