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October 15, 2007

Nobody Wants to Work for George Bush
Posted by Moira Whelan

There’s good news and bad news about Philip Shenon’s article about recess appointments and vacancies in the Bush Administration.

The bad news is that of course, the government can’t function the way it should without top appointees at the helm. The good news is that because these positions are not filled, fewer mechanisms of government are acting according to a radical right-wing agenda. One might also infer that there just aren’t enough right-wing people out there willing to drink the Kool-Aid of the Bush Administration, which is reassuring to me as an American.

The Bushies aren’t trying a sneak attack with recess appointments, rather, things really are That Bad for them.Brian Beutler gets at this and I agree with him.

The transition in 2009 will no doubt be made worse by the fact that civil servants and political appointees are fleeing the Bush Administration. So bad, in fact, that the Department of Homeland Security has issued a contract to address the challenge.


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The increasing dominance of the permanent campaign over the business of government has led American administrations to centralize more and more decision-making authority in the White House, the better to maintain message discipline. The current Bush administration has greatly accelerated that trend, but did not create it.

Cabinet and sub-Cabinet positions with less real authority are bound to be less attractive to able people no matter who the President is. In Bush's case the problem is magnified by his unpopularity, unprecedented for a President since the Watergate era and a concern for ambitious people wary of being burdened in the future by their association with him. A more prosaic concern is the considerable sacrifice of income many potential appointees would have to make to accept a government post, particularly potential appointees to departments like Justice, or those with a business background.

This is no more than a minor irritation to Bush personally. The orderly functioning of the government has never much concerned him, and obviously that makes working for his administration even less attractive a prospect than it would be otherwise.

There is no doubt that the Bush Administration is slow to fill both confirmed appointments and day-to-day non-confirmed political appointments. Historically - this shortage of appointments occurs later is a lame duck administration - people don't want to leave another permanent job for a few months in a closing administration - and in this case more than others - it is tough to get people to serve an unpopular President.

It is also true that the party in control of the Senate is slow to approve appointments which have permanent terms - perhaps 5-12 years long and install the other party in for the long pull when there is a chance they might own the White House in January 2009 and can fill those jobs with their own people.

In practice - day-to-day business functions do continue routinely because the civil service looks after important business when the politicos are not there - but of course - new policy is tough to come by when nobody represents the President.

The good news is that people interested in 2009 transition jobs are lining up across the country and getting their political hookups in place - and that is true in both parties and along side all the leading candidates. Because of the long time between January 2008 and the election is a long time - and many positions will be lined up well in advance of the election. In short - the transition ought to be quicker this time around with the long campaign in view.

A personal view is that the White House really doesn't care much anymore about political positions -