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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments Executive Summary INTRODUCTION This report examines the federal government's capacity to attract highly qualified individuals to serve in the top-level executive positions involved in science and technology (S&T) decisionmaking and program management. It addresses the problems encountered in recruiting and keeping talented experts, especially scientists and engineers, as presidential appointees and contains recommendations for improving the situation. Science, Technology, and Government The government of the United States today is deeply involved in important policy areas that have significant scientific and technical components. The science and technology activities of the federal government are vitally important for economic productivity and technological competitiveness, national security, an improved environment, better health, and many other purposes. As scientific and technological knowledge continues to expand at a rapid rate, the government needs ever greater capacity to formulate, carry out, and monitor S&T policies and programs and their effects. The need for highly competent and dedicated scientists, engineers, and other experts in top policy and program management positions in the federal government has never been greater. Leadership of the government's role in science and technology is exercised by executives in fewer than 100 positions. They include high-level posts in the Executive Office of the President and in the agencies and departments that support scientific and industrial research and development; manage large-scale defense, space, energy, health research, and environmental programs; and regulate activities with large technology components. Most of the top S&T positions are held by
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments scientists or engineers, and the rest could be. These high-level officials stand at the point where government intersects with science and technology. The nation needs exceptionally able scientists and engineers in these executive positions to weigh the advice of technical specialists and to make key programmatic and policy decisions. The government's capacity to perform these science and technology functions would be seriously affected by increasing difficulties in recruiting highly qualified personnel. This report focuses on the 78 or so executive branch positions filled by the President, with the consent of the Senate (called PAS positions). [A companion report by a National Research Council committee addresses the problems of recruiting and retaining career scientists and engineers, some of whom also hold top science and technology positions (NRC, 1992).] Most of the research and development work in the United States takes place in the private sector, including more than three-quarters of the research and development (R&D) paid for with federal dollars. The talent pool of scientific and engineering expertise available to lead the national R&D enterprise is therefore mostly in the private sector. Although the federal government has access to significant basic and applied research expertise in its own career service, it is particularly dependent on the business sector for the technological expertise needed to oversee large-scale engineering programs in the energy, space, and defense areas. Accordingly, since World War II, the federal government has relied for S&T leadership on the invigorating flow of highly qualified scientists and engineers from (and back to) colleges and universities, national laboratories, high-technology firms, and other private organizations. Problems The United States' past success in science and technology has been built on this unique system of cooperation involving the university, business, and nonprofit sectors. These scientific and engineering personnel not only carry out government-supported work, but some leave the private sector to serve the government in top policy and management positions for relatively short periods in their careers. This in-and-out system of executive leadership for federal science and technology has served the nation well and should be carefully nurtured. Instead, a number of factors are making it harder to recruit highly
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments qualified scientists, engineers, and medical experts from the private sector for top government leadership positions. The factors cited most often include: More stringent and confusing postgovernment employment restrictions; The longer, more burdensome, and more intrusive nomination and Senate confirmation process; Stricter and more costly conflict-of-interest provisions; More detailed requirements for public financial disclosure; Pay that is not competitive with comparable positions in the private and nonprofit sectors; The high costs of moving to and living in Washington; Increased public scrutiny of one's personal life; Decreased capacity of government to carry out effective programs; and Lower public esteem for and prestige of public service. Although these factors may affect all potential candidates for presidential appointments to some degree, they can have a differential impact on the government's ability to attract researchers from academia and industry and managers with technical backgrounds from industry. Government service does not usually further the careers of practicing scientists and engineers or help the career prospects of corporate executives. The government may attract academic scientists and engineers who are ready to switch into administration, but it faces real problems in recruiting midcareer corporate executives for whom a leave of absence is a threat to further advancement. In many cases, corporate executives with scientific and engineering backgrounds are the most knowledgeable about the policies and programs the government manages or oversees—for example, in the defense, energy, and space sectors and in emerging areas like biotechnology.
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments As a result of the factors listed above, the time it has taken to fill key S&T leadership positions has been increasing. For example, it took the Bush Administration an average of nine months to fill key S&T positions, up from six months in the Reagan Administration. Some critical positions have taken even longer—for example, it took 22 months to recruit a Director of the Office of Energy Research. This lag in filling positions has a significant and harmful effect on the government's ability to manage ongoing programs and to undertake S&T-based initiatives. It is not only taking longer to fill key positions but it is also becoming harder to recruit top candidates. It is impossible to document the increasing rate of turndowns because most candidates drop out before a formal job offer is made, but panel members familiar with recent openings in the defense, energy, and health areas know of cases where it was necessary to go to the tenth, twentieth, and even the thirtieth name on a list of desirable candidates. While some outstanding appointments have nevertheless been made, the reluctance of the most desirable candidates in recent years is disturbing. High turnover is a related concern. A recent study by the Council for Excellence in Government (CEG) found that average tenure in 54 top executive branch S&T positions has been 2.5 years (including those holding a position on an acting basis while a new candidate was being recruited and confirmed) (Trattner, 1992:5). Turnover is particularly high in certain areas; the CEG study cited the Environmental Protection Agency, parts of the Energy Department, the Consumer Products Safety Commission, and the Food and Drug Administration. The Defense Department has had four Under Secretaries for Acquisition since the position was created in 1987. These trends are troubling because excellence, continuity, and stability are especially needed in science and technology programs. CONSEQUENCES One of the most difficult challenges facing modern government is to make decisions about complex matters that take into account the constantly evolving scientific knowledge and technological changes that occur by and large outside the government itself. To meet this challenge, the nation cannot rely on generalists alone, and in fact, we have developed a tradition of recruiting highly trained individuals to fill key S&T leadership positions in the government. If we fail to attract excel-
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments lent people to these positions, the quality of policymaking will suffer. The panel concluded—after examining the record, reviewing reports, and conferring with government recruiting officials and with current and past incumbents of S&T-related positions—that there is considerable evidence of increasing difficulty in recruiting and keeping the highly qualified appointees the government needs to serve in S&T leadership positions. We are very concerned by this deterioration in the government's capacity to fill its top S&T-related positions. It has a significant and harmful effect on the government's ability to manage ongoing programs and to undertake new initiatives. If the situation continues, the government's ability to make key decisions in the face of rapid scientific and technological change—and to design, carry out, and evaluate effective and responsive programs—will be very seriously affected. The nation can ill afford the consequences of leaving unattended this problem of executive recruitment. Solutions What can be done? Staffing an administration is one of the most important responsibilities of a President. The abilities and energy of the President's appointees in top positions in the executive branch are key determinants of policymaking and policy execution. This is especially true for S&T positions, where current expertise is needed to deal with a fast-changing scientific and technological environment. As a nation, we are facing a serious problem of recruitment and retention in government leadership positions, the effects of which have been accumulating steadily for several decades and promises to worsen. The long-term nature of this erosion of governmental capacity led the recent National Commission on the Public Service (Volcker Commission) to call it a ''quiet crisis'' (1989a). The multiple and incremental causes of the problem call for multiple and steady responses on several fronts. The panel focused on three strategies for improving the government's ability to attract the talent it needs for top positions in which science and technology policies are developed and carried out: Reducing the hurdles of the appointment process and the disincentives to government service;
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments Expanding the pool of potential talent by improving the White House's outreach to the science and engineering community and using more effective techniques for recruiting leading scientists and engineers; and Restructuring certain positions to make them more attractive to scientists and engineers. REDUCING HURDLES AND DISINCENTIVES The presidential appointment process has many hurdles and disincentives that cumulatively deter potential nominees. It has become an ordeal that fewer and fewer of the most highly qualified scientists and engineers are willing to undergo. Many of those who do serve must make large financial sacrifices, suffer loss of privacy, and risk unjustified accusations of scandal. The major hurdles include: postemployment restrictions that are becoming too broad in application; the cost of complying with conflict-of-interest interpretations; the perception of inappropriate ideological "litmus tests"; inadequate compensation; the belief that it is much harder to accomplish anything in and through government; and the lengthier and more burdensome appointment process. As a result of these hurdles, fewer scientists and engineers consider serving as presidential appointees, and recruiters are experiencing increased numbers of turndowns before they find willing candidates. Turnover is high. Important positions remain vacant for longer periods. It is becoming more difficult to recruit those in midcareer rather than the very young or those approaching retirement, because the costs for those with children in college—and who face significant postgovernment employment restrictions—are very high. Several hurdles have been lowered recently. The Ethics Reform Act of 1989 permits candidates who have to resolve conflicts of interest by divesting stocks or other assets to convert or "roll over" the proceeds into a neutral investment vehicle, such as a diversified mutual fund, rather than having to pay capital gains taxes on them all at once. The same act also mandated a substantial increase in executive pay levels—nearly 45 percent by the beginning of 1992—and established new mechanisms for ensuring that salary levels continue to increase annually with inflation. Overall, however, the situation is worsening as other hurdles—sub-
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments stantive and procedural—increase in number and size, and they counteract the pay increases and helpful tax changes. As a result, governmental capacity to plan, implement, and evaluate S&T-intensive programs is deteriorating. Continued leadership of the United States in such areas as biotechnology, manufacturing, medical science, space, energy, and defense is threatened. Some of the most important hurdles are conflict-of-interest laws that have proliferated piecemeal in response to specific scandals. The integrity of government and public trust in government must be maintained, but, as a nation, we also pay a high cost if top leadership positions are not filled by the most qualified and experienced experts. The panel concluded that the unintended costs of broader conflict-of-interest restrictions—particularly those dealing with postgovernment employment—have reached the point where they substantially outweigh their benefits. We believe, however, that it is possible to have fair and effective conflict-of-interest laws that are compatible with, indeed would promote, public service by highly qualified and motivated individuals from industry, academia, and other sectors who are on the cutting edge of science and technology. Reasonable Postgovernment Employment Restrictions According to presidential recruiters, as well as scientists and engineers who have been approached by recruiters, the laws restricting postgovernment employment have become the single biggest disincentive to public service, now that pay levels have been increased substantially. Overlapping, conflicting, confusing, and in some respects overly broad postemployment restrictions that were suspended with the passage of the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 have come back into effect over the last year, and there is constant pressure to broaden the restrictions further by banning officials involved in specific procurement actions from working in any capacity for any competing contractors for periods of one, two, or three years. A particularly damaging feature of some recently imposed and proposed restrictions is that they often treat presidential appointees who have broad procurement oversight responsibilities as having participated personally and substantially in a wide range of contract determinations under their official jurisdictions. As a consequence, such high-level appointees may be effectively barred from immediate postemployment
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments opportunities with many or all of the firms or institutions at which they could practice their career specialties. These postemployment restrictions have become the biggest problem in recruiting high-level scientists and engineers. Many important areas of S&T involve relatively few contractors. Thus broad postemployment restrictions can make it virtually impossible for specialized individuals to continue their careers in their areas of expertise because the relevant employers do government work in that area and are very likely to have bid on government contracts. The recent efforts to create a scandal-proof government have gone so far that they, on balance, do more harm than good by deterring talented and experienced scientific and engineering personnel from taking senior government positions. These laws afford little additional ethical protection at very high cost—a bad bargain for the government and the public. Recommendation A-1. Government postemployment restrictions should be revised to balance the public's interest in ensuring the integrity of government operations with its interest in attracting the best talent to government service. The basic laws governing postgovernment employment should be revised and codified in 18 U.S.C. §207. The fundamental aim of postemployment restrictions should be to regulate improper conduct directly rather than to ban employment with particular employers per se, as has been done with certain officials of the Department of Defense since 1985 and as has been proposed in Congress for governmentwide application. Instead, section 207 should be revised to include restrictions on improper postemployment conduct, to curb improper influence not only by prohibiting personal representation but also by prohibiting use or disclosure of specific types of inside information, such as that which is integral to source selection. Subject to these restrictions, participation in work under contracts should be allowed so that the government may benefit from the expertise of its former employees. To the extent that a ban on employment has to be adopted, it should be of short duration and narrowly applied to officials who have had substantial personal involvement in awarding or administering a contract. Current provisions for waivers and exemptions from postemployment restrictions of section 207 and other laws that apply to critically needed scientific and technological experts and employees of the national laboratories should be used to the fullest extent needed. Finally, federal executives should be able to obtain "safe harbor" opinions from agency ethics officials regarding the applicability of postemployment restrictions in their cases. The administrative burden
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments of providing such opinions would be reduced greatly if the postemployment provisions were revised and combined into a single, coherent set of laws, as recommended. Consolidation and Periodic Review of Ethics Laws The government's conflict-of-interest and other ethics laws should be fair, clear, and consistent. Currently, the laws—especially those concerning postemployment restrictions—are overlapping and inconsistent in content and in their application to comparable agencies, making them hard to understand or enforce. The resulting uncertainty makes it difficult for the Office of Government Ethics, designated agency ethics officials, or personal legal advisors to tell appointees what restrictions and bans will apply to them. This uncertainty often deters candidates from agreeing to be nominated. There is no mechanism for periodic review of ethics laws to see if they work and are worth their cost or if they need to be updated in response to changed conditions. This situation perpetuates the existence of multiple ad hoc measures that are inconsistent with each other and create unnecessary hurdles in the appointment process. Recommendation A-2. To ensure clear understanding and more effective enforcement, the government's ethics laws should be streamlined and clarified as soon as possible, and they should be contained in a single comprehensive section of the U.S. Code. They should then be evaluated periodically for their impact and effectiveness in ensuring ethical conduct with as little negative effect on recruitment and retention of scientific and engineering personnel as possible. Overlapping laws should be repealed immediately. Clear and consistent ethics laws will would let appointees know what is expected of them. This would increase compliance and improve any enforcement that is needed. This consolidation, which could be based on the work of the 1989 President's Commission on Federal Ethics Law Reform, should commence immediately. Subsequently, periodic evaluations should be carried out with—and needed revisions suggested by—a commission appointed by the President, Senate, and House of Representatives. The commission should consist of representatives from the executive and legislative branches and the private sector (academia, industry, nonprofit), and it should report publicly every ten years (or more often if necessary).
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments Reasonable Resolution of Substantive Conflicts of Interest Some candidates for presidential appointments own stocks and other assets that pose a potential conflict of interest, if the candidates' official actions may affect or appear to affect the value of such an asset. This situation is more likely to pertain to individuals recruited from industry to fill top S&T positions in the energy, defense, and space areas than to those recruited to fill executive positions in many other program areas. Many industry scientists and engineers have stock and stock options in the companies they come from, and the companies, in turn, are probably competing for federal contracts. In these cases, which are few in number but important, divestiture of assets is common because it automatically eliminates the possibility of a conflict of interest. In some cases, appointees are required not only to divest assets in a former employer before taking a federal position, but also to disqualify themselves from all involvement with that company while holding the position. Normally, recusal after full divestiture should not be necessary (unless the appointee retains pension or similar rights with the former employer). In many cases, recusal alone should be a sufficient remedy. We believe that the public interest is better served if the least drastic—and least costly—remedy is used in each case, because it would improve recruitment of needed personnel. Recommendation A-3. In applying the conflict-of-interest laws, divestiture of assets should not be considered the primary remedy and therefore required routinely. Recusal, coupled with full public financial disclosure, should be considered the primary remedy in most cases by the Senate, the Office of Government Ethics, and agency ethics officials. The panel believes that more reasonable resolutions of substantive conflicts of interest would avoid unnecessary discouragement of prospective appointees. Divestiture has been used more often to cure conflicts of interest since legislation allowing "rollover" of the proceeds from divested assets into a neutral investment vehicle was passed in 1989. Asset rollover does not help in all cases, however. Some assets have no present value that can be realized (e.g., stock options), and others cannot be divested all at once without major harm (e.g., a family-owned firm). If divestiture is necessary, it should not be coupled with recusal unless the appointee retains some interest, such as pension rights.
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments Nonprofit Job Tenure Leaves of absence have proved to be an effective way to recruit top scientists and engineers from academia, tax-exempt medical and research institutions, and the national laboratories for important presidentially appointed positions. We recommend below that these institutions grant them freely, since they have an important stake in the quality of the government's S&T leadership. The current practice of making appointees sever all ties with industrial employers should not be inappropriately extended to candidates from the academic and nonprofit sectors. There may be occasional instances where resignation is necessary, but if requirements to resign tenured positions became common, the chilling effect on government's capacity to recruit from the nonprofit sector—including colleges and universities, national laboratories, and research institutions—would be large and very damaging. Recommendation A-4. University faculty, and scientists and engineers from nonprofit medical institutions, national laboratories, and other nonprofit research organizations, normally should not be forced to give up tenure in their home institutions. In fact, leaves of absence for tenured faculty and other nonprofit personnel should be encouraged to increase the government's capacity to recruit and retain well-qualified scientific and engineering personnel in high-level positions. Resignation is only called for in those few instances where major decisions affecting the home institution are pending and are too central to the job for recusal to be practical. In those rare cases where resignation may be justified, there should be no implicit arrangements for the appointee to return. Reducing Other Hurdles and Costs Adequate Compensation Until recently, low and inadequate pay was a major disincentive to serve, even in presidentially appointed executive level positions. Although the executive pay situation has eased in the short term, it will not be adequate in some cases and will deteriorate again unless there are regular cost-of-living adjustments. The report therefore has recommendations for dealing with the out-of-pocket costs of serving, including the need for procedures for maintaining the adequacy of executive pay levels (see Recommendations A-5 through A-7 in chapter 2).
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments Administrative Streamlining The appointment process itself has become too elaborate and lengthy, which unnecessarily deters some potential candidates and hinders an administration in providing effective leadership to the government. The report has recommendations for reducing the sheer length and paperwork burden of the appointment process itself (see Recommendations A-8 and A-9 in chapter 2). IMPROVING RECRUITMENT AND EXPANDING THE POOL OF CANDIDATES The panel also reviewed the situation from the perspective of the departments and agencies and the White House, which are faced with recruiting scientists and engineers who do not usually consider a tour as a political appointee to be a normal step in their careers. Because the White House Office of Presidential Personnel (OPP) is overburdened with a large number of placements to make, especially at the beginning of an administration, it is unable to conduct the type of active search needed to find the best talent for positions in specialized areas. Therefore, the current system too often fails to identify and recruit the best available talent for presidentially appointed positions involving scientific or technological expertise. In addition, the criteria used by the OPP to screen candidates are too frequently misunderstood in the science community, leading to damaging perceptions that political and ideological factors are overemphasized in the selection process. We concluded, therefore, that it is necessary to find ways to improve the White House's outreach to the research and engineering community and to encourage the White House, industry, academia, and scientific societies to work together in expanding the pool of potential talent. Greater Reliance on Department and Agency Recruitment The locus of decisionmaking for subcabinet political appointments should be with the cabinet secretaries and agency heads. We believe that shifting the balance toward the departments and agencies will improve the chances of recruiting and keeping first-rate scientists and engineers in presidentially appointed positions. The OPP faces too many demands to conduct the active search and negotiation process needed to fill the 78 or so S&T positions among the 550 full-time PAS jobs, along with nearly 2,350 additional full-time positions and several thousand
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments part-time appointments to boards and commissions that must be made at the beginning of each administration and kept filled thereafter. Whereas the OPP is likely to be under intense pressure to fill positions for political reasons, department and agency heads have a large stake in filling S&T positions with people of high expertise. They are also better able to match the person with the job, and they are more likely than the OPP to be connected to the networks in which technical experts operate professionally. Recommendation B-1. Without giving up their exclusive right to make executive appointments, presidents should place greater reliance on cabinet secretaries and agency heads for active identification and recruitment of candidates for subcabinet positions involving S&T expertise. The White House cannot hope to fill the thousands of PAS and other political positions that must be filled at the beginning of an administration in a timely fashion or adequately supervise them thereafter. In any case, most appointed S&T positions are level IV or V, are primarily specialized in nature, and work primarily with department leadership, not the White House. We believe, therefore, that the departments and agencies should play a larger role in identifying and recruiting candidates. Key Personnel Role for the Assistant to the President for S&T In attracting the best scientists and engineers for leadership positions in the executive branch, the importance of presidential leadership cannot be overemphasized, even where cabinet secretaries and agency heads take the lead in identification and recruitment. The President must be perceived in the research community to value science and respect first-rate science personnel. The selection and role of the President's Assistant for S&T is crucial to this perception. One of the key roles of the Assistant for S&T is to assist the President in recruiting the best scientific and engineering talent in the country for top positions in the S&T-intensive agencies (Trattner, 1992:18). In recent decades, however, presidential assistants for S&T have been chosen too late to participate in the all-important initial recruitment effort of new administrations, and they have too seldom played a strong role in recruitment once they were on board. It is important that the Assistant to the President for S&T be of high stature in the research community and, if he or she helps with presidential
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments recruiting, the acceptance rate of the most qualified scientists and engineers can be increased. Recommendation B-2. The President should designate the Assistant to the President for S&T early in the transition and instruct him or her to work closely with department and agency heads and the Office of Presidential Personnel in an active effort to identify and recruit outstanding scientists and engineers for presidential appointments. The President's Assistant for S&T also should help recommend changes, whether in personnel or in the authorities, location, reporting relationships, and staff and budgetary resources of key S&T positions that may be required to make the positions more effective and attractive. Specialized Capacity of the Office of Presidential Personnel for S&T Recruitment The most qualified scientists and engineers are probably not looking for appointed positions in the government. They are less likely to be living in the Washington area already or involved in partisan politics than are capable individuals outside the S&T community. It is essential to reach out actively to this special, limited pool of potential appointees. Although some of the best scientists and engineers do not think of seeking a presidentially appointed position and have to be actively recruited, the OPP does not have adequate capacity—that is, a separate unit with specialized personnel—for identifying and assisting in recruiting them. Also, in some cases, initial contacts with prestigious scientists and engineers have not been well handled, leading potential candidates to believe that inappropriate criteria are being used or that political criteria, while appropriate to some degree, are being overemphasized relative to technical qualifications. Recommendation B-3. The Office of Presidential Personnel should have a special unit charged with assisting in the recruiting of outstanding scientists and engineers, and it should be given sufficient resources to ensure a high level of professionalism in recruitment. The new unit for scientific and engineering recruitment should work closely with the Assistant to the President for S&T and the department and agency heads in identifying and approaching potential nominees for the administration, and special outreach efforts should be undertaken in
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments conjunction with professional associations of scientists and engineers. We believe that specialized and experienced staff, working in conjunction with the Assistant to the President for S&T and concerned department and agency heads, will help the departments and agencies to better perform the recruitment function. The success of these recommendations aimed at improving the outreach and recruitment process depends critically on close cooperation among the departments and agencies, the Assistant to the President for S&T, and Assistant to the President for Presidential Personnel. It is necessary and appropriate for the OPP to manage the appointment process, because these are presidential appointments. OPP is a small staff agency, however. Therefore, it must and should rely on the department and agency heads for much of the work in identifying and recruiting prospective appointees, especially for lower-level executive positions within the departments—e.g., assistant secretaries and bureau heads. Finally, the Assistant to the President for S&T should play a key role in identifying and recruiting candidates for certain positions considered key to the President's program and to the government's major S&T efforts, and should monitor for the President the overall effectiveness of the recruitment process where it counts—namely, in successful scientific and engineering policies and programs. Other Recruiting Recommendations While the federal government should improve its recruitment process as much as possible, the other partners in the national S&T enterprise also have an interest and an obligation to encourage their most qualified leaders to serve in top government policy and management positions. The report contains several recommendations aimed at increasing the involvement of the industrial, academic, and nonprofit sectors and of the professional scientific societies in encouraging scientists and engineers to serve in the government (see Recommendations B-4 and B-5 in chapter 3). MAKING THE JOBS THEMSELVES MORE ATTRACTIVE The preceding recommendations are aimed at finding the most talented individuals and reducing impediments to their appointment. The panel is also concerned with making the positions themselves more
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments attractive, chiefly by ensuring that incumbents, once appointed, can see their expert judgment effectively coupled with policymaking. There is a growing belief in the scientific and technological communities that the top governmental jobs are becoming more difficult to do well. In some part, this is because of a perception that technical expertise and judgment are not given their due weight in making policy—or, sometimes, in making the appointments themselves. The panel wishes to emphasize that, in making the following recommendations, it does not imply that politics can or should be removed from the top S&T jobs. S&T appointees should be willing and able to support administration positions. But their basic job is to bring technical knowledge and informed judgment to the policy arena and to foster policies that are defensible on both political and technical grounds. It follows that political considerations should not be permitted to prevail—in reality or perception—without the scientific and technical considerations being carefully considered. Unfortunately, there are too many reports in recent decades (especially those associated with ideological or ''litmus test'' rejections of qualified potential nominees) that send a message that an incumbent's technical integrity may be compromised. We thus present some strategies for improving the attractiveness of S&T positions. Appropriate Reclassification and Restructuring of Positions Over time, many federal S&T positions have changed. Some have become more politicized in relation to their technical content, and others have been distanced from final decision authority by intervening layers in the bureaucracy. Because government is best served if the best technical judgment on difficult public policy issues is heard, considered, and balanced with political and other considerations by decisionmakers, the S&T executive leadership structure should be carefully designed to ensure that unbiased and accurate technical judgments can be made and directly applied to relevant policy choices. For example, although they should not be removed from politics, positions whose incumbents are expected to act primarily on long-term scientific or technical grounds should be insulated from day-to-day partisan pressures, and in selected cases, from automatic removal with changes in administration.
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments Recommendation C-1. The political status, responsibilities and authorities, and reporting relationships of the government's top S&T positions should be reviewed periodically—and restructured as necessary—to ensure that the unbiased scientific and engineering judgment of incumbents is preserved and is directly introduced into the policy process. Such a process will maintain the effectiveness and relevance of these important positions, which in turn will ensure that highly qualified and capable individuals will want to serve in them. The reviews should be a responsibility of the Assistant to the President for S&T and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Independent reviews should be conducted periodically by a private organization or set of organizations concerned with the government's effectiveness in carrying out its scientific and engineering missions. Suitable strategies that might apply to particular positions include: Fixed terms, which can be structured in several ways. (Fixed terms are already used for a few positions, such as the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service and the Director of the National Science Foundation, and have been suggested for others, such as the Director of the National Institutes of Health). Reorganization to reduce "layering". Certain positions should be considered for elevation in level and status to make them more effective in carrying out their responsibilities, and thus more attractive to outstanding candidates. (The Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and the Director of NIH, for example, are several layers removed from the Secretary of Health and Human Services and are subjected to more clearance hurdles than officials in other departments and agencies with whom they must coordinate). Removal from the Senate confirmation process altogether, in the case of some jobs. This was done with assistant directors of the NSF. Reducing the Administrative "Overbrush" The number of presidential appointments to full-time executive branch positions requiring Senate confirmation has increased from about 150 in 1965 to about 550 today. In addition, the number of other
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments political appointments processed through the OPP has increased greatly (with Schedule C positions nearly doubling to 1,700 since 1976, and the addition of 650 noncareer positions in the Senior Executive Service after 1978). The primary problem is the greatly increased number of political assistants to higher-level officials overseeing S&T agencies. These appointees—e.g., noncareer SES holding deputy assistant secretary or similar positions and Schedule C staff assistants—tend to dilute decisionmaking authority held by agency and bureau heads. This hampers the ability of S&T leaders to manage their programs and encourages second-guessing or "micromanagement" of decisions that are made by the highly qualified officials who are in the best position to reach informed judgments involving technical as well as political and economic considerations. Recommendation C-2. The overall reduction in political appointees (especially in Schedule C and noncareer SES jobs, but also in PAS positions), as earlier recommended by the National Commission on the Public Service, should be carried out. Restricting somewhat the number of PAS positions and reducing greatly the number of overlying political assistants would improve governmental S&T by increasing the accountability and authority of the key leadership positions, which in turn would improve recruitment of top candidates. The panel fully realizes that this recommendation may seem unrealistic, because politically it would be difficult to achieve. We believe, however, that it is important to point out that the proliferation of political appointees is part of the problem in effective governance. Political layering and excessive interference from Schedule C and political SES appointees who work for higher level officials constitute important disincentives to serve. This is especially a problem in the S&T policy and administration area, because too much layering of authority affects the input of technical considerations in decisionmaking. Another disincentive for those considering appointment to an S&T leadership position is the time it takes to recruit candidates for PAS and other politically appointed positions under them and get them through the confirmation process. This reduces the time and energy they have to devote to carrying out the substance of their jobs. At the very least, if it is impossible to reduce the overall number of political appointments at this time, there should be a presumption against creating additional positions without considering the negative effects on the recruitment and retention of highly qualified officials as well as effective decisionmaking and accountability.
Representative terms from entire chapter: