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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments 4 Making the Jobs Themselves More Attractive The recommendations in the preceding chapters 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 attractive, chiefly by ensuring that incumbents, once appointed, can see that their expert knowledge and judgment are heard and coupled effectively with S&T policymaking and management decisionmaking. Unfortunately, there is a growing belief in the scientific and engineering communities that the PAS jobs are becoming more difficult to do well. This belief stems in part from a perception that technical expertise and judgment are not given their due weight in making policy—or, sometimes, in making the appointments themselves. There is also a perception that some positions have been pushed down too many layers in the decisionmaking structure to be effective. 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 an administration's policy positions. But their basic function 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 have been 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 therefore present some strategies for improving the attractiveness of S&T positions.
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments APPROPRIATE RECLASSIFICATION AND RESTRUCTURING OF POSITIONS Over time, many federal S&T positions have changed as the world has changed, national priorities have shifted, and the governmental structure has grown. Some positions 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, certain 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. More generally, there is little overall logic to the structure of positions in terms of levels, political status, or organizational location. The structure has a historical rather than a logical basis. Therefore, functionally equivalent programs may be organized as a bureau in a department or as an independent agency. Otherwise similar positions may be presidentially appointed in one agency and career SES in another. Because S&T activities are fast-growing and constantly changing, there should be a mechanism for ongoing or periodic evaluations and adjustments of the government's S&T structure in line with changed circumstances and priorities. The Office of Science and Technology Policy should monitor the S&T structure, in support of the roles in policymaking and in recruiting played by the Assistant to the President for S&T. It would also be beneficial for an independent organization to undertake periodic reviews of the status of presidentially appointed S&T positions. The Prune Book on the ''Science 60'' just published by the Council for Excellence in Government, although produced for a different purpose, provides an excellent first step in such an overall assessment (Trattner, 1992). Recommendation C-1. The political status, responsibilities and authorities, and reporting relationships or the government's top S&T positions should be reviewed periodically—and restructured as
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments 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, with staff assistance from the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Independent reviews should also 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 restructuring strategies that might apply to particular positions include fixed terms, reorganizing to reduce layering of authority, and removing some positions from the Senate confirmation process. Fixed terms, which can be structured in several ways. A few PAS positions already have fixed terms for the purpose the panel endorses—that is, to make them one step more insulated from day-to-day pressures of partisan politics. The positions covered now include the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service, the Director of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Director of the National Science Foundation, and the Chief Medical Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Fixed terms have been suggested for other positions. For example, an advisory committee to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended that the NIH Director be appointed for a renewable six-year term (Singer, 1990). Such terms can vary in length, be renewable or not, and have more or less strict terms of removal, depending on the degree of insulation desired. In all cases, to be constitutional, the President must retain the power of removal. Incumbents of term appointments should be accountable and subject to removal by the President. But being a term appointment changes the terms of removal to some extent. It creates a presumption that individuals in these positions should stay rather than be automatically removed with every change in administration, and it requires an administration to give good reasons for such a removal. On the other hand, the use of terms also indicates that there should be periodic turnover—not for partisan reasons but to ensure new blood and fresh ideas.
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments 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 Advisory Committee on the NIH recommended that the NIH Director be designated the chief advisor on science policy and biomedical research program planning to the Secretary of HHS or, alternatively, NIH be made an independent agency in order to attract an outstanding biomedical scientist as the Director (Singer, 1990). Similarly, the Advisory Committee on the Food and Drug Administration called for a major increase in the status and authority of the FDA Commissioner to enable the Commissioner to report directly to the Secretary and to issue regulations and manage the daily operations of the agency without having to go through multiple layers of higher-level review within the Department of Health and Human Services (Advisory Committee on the FDA, 1991:24). Removal from the Senate confirmation process altogether, in the case of some positions (see also the next recommendation). Some positions would be more attractive to highly qualified scientists and engineers if they were not subject to the presidential appointment process at all, but were filled through merit procedures. This was done successfully in the case of the assistant directors of the National Science Foundation because political recruitment was taking too much time of the Director, and promising candidates were put off by the ordeal of the confirmation process in order to fill what they considered to be a professional position. REDUCING ADMINISTRATIVE "OVERBRUSH" The number of presidential appointments in the executive branch requiring Senate confirmation has increased from about 150 in 1965 to about 550 today. In addition, the number of other political appointments processed through the OPP has increased greatly. The number of Schedule C appointments has nearly doubled since 1976 to 1,700.1 1 Schedule C positions are at the GS-15 or lower level, but are excepted from the competitive civil service because they are policy determining or involve a close and confidential relationship with a key official who is politically appointed. There were 1,665 Schedule C appointees in 1986, compared with 911 in 1976 (Ingraham, 1987). Traditionally these positions were held by
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments There are now more than 650 "noncareer" Senior Executive Service positions. The primary problem is the greatly increased number of political assistants to higher-level officials overseeing S&T agencies, a phenomenon the National Commission on the Public Service labeled "administrative overbrush" (1989b:169). These appointees—e.g., noncareer members of the Senior Executive Service holding deputy assistant secretary or similar positions and Schedule C staff assistants—tend to dilute decisionmaking authority held by line 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 scientific and engineering as well as political and economic considerations. There has also been an increase in the number of political appointees at lower levels within the line agencies. These positions take extra time to fill through the political appointment process in the first place and then they are subject to high turnover. Although they are political appointees, they are not necessarily known to the President personally and may divide their loyalty to the President with loyalty to the legislators or constituency groups that sponsored them. The National Academy of Public Administration has pointed out that "the advantages of an appointive process do not multiply in direct proportion to the number of appointments. Indeed, quite the opposite may be true—that as the system grows in scope, some of its benefits are converted into costs" (NAPA, 1985:29). The National Commission on the Public Service concluded that excessive numbers of presidential and other political appointees may undermine presidential control of the executive branch; the commission therefore called for an overall reduction from the current 3,000 politically appointed positions to no more than 2,000, with most of the cuts coming at the lower levels (Schedule C and noncareer SES) (National Commission on the Public Service, 1989a: 18). We have already recommended that the department and agency heads should take the lead in recruiting for such positions (Recommendation B-1). We also believe that a smaller overall number of such positions would increase the stature and responsibilities—and therefore the effectiveness—of presidential appointees heading key S&T agencies and personal secretaries and staff assistants to political appointees, but in recent years the number of political special assistants in the offices of assistant secretaries and of similar political appointees has increased greatly.
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Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments programs. This in turn will increase the likelihood that the government will succeed in recruiting and keeping the talent it wants, because one of the main incentives for outstanding individuals to accept a presidential appointment is the nature of the job itself, the opportunity to make a difference and accomplish something important. As it is, a perception has developed in the research community that many of the top government positions for which outstanding scientists and engineers might be recruited have become subject to inappropriate ideological screens, overlaid with hierarchy, and stripped of the resources and authority necessary to carry out the mission. Recommendation C-2. Congress and the President should carry out an overall reduction in political appointees (especially in Schedule C and noncareer SES jobs, but also in PAS positions), as recommended earlier by the National Commission on the Public Service. Restricting somewhat the number of PAS positions and reducing greatly the number of overlying political assistants would improve the governmental S&T enterprise 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, even 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.
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