PRESIDENTIAL SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY APPOINTMENTS
One of the greatest challenges of modern society and its governing bodies is to manage S&T information properly and incorporate it into daily decision making.
Knowledge creation and diffusion are increasingly important drivers of innovation, sustainable economic growth, and social well-being. The security, prosperity, health, and environment of Americans depend on senior leadership to sustain our vibrant S&T and to nurture an environment that transforms new knowledge into opportunities for creating high-quality jobs and reaching shared goals. The nation increasingly looks to the scientific and engineering communities for solutions to some of its most intractable problems, from chronic disease to missile defense, to transportation woes, to energy security, to ensuring clean air and clean water. Expectations for S&T are perhaps higher than at any other time in our history and are placing unprecedented demands on leadership.
Box 1 lists the top federal S&T leadership appointments important for the development of S&T-based policy. The list is divided into two parts. In the first are the key positions for which an S&T background is essential. In the second are S&T policy-related positions that are not traditionally held by a scientist, engineer, or health professional but for which an understanding of S&T is important in a broader context of policy development.
The committee confirmed four aspects of the appointment process in which reforms are needed to enhance the nation’s ability to recruit and attract the best S&T leadership to government
The following are lists of what the committee considers to be the most critical federal science and technology (S&T) appointments. The positions listed below include both presidential and nonpresidential appointments (but not career appointments) that the committee believes are important for the development of S&T-based policy. The list is divided into two parts. In the first are the key positions for which S&T background is essential. In the second are S&T policy-related positions that are not traditionally held by a scientist, engineer, or health professional but for which an understanding of S&T is important in a broader context of policy development. These positions may sometimes be held by persons with a science or engineering background. Major presidentially appointed commissions and boards whose province is S&T or S&T-related policy are included on both lists (for example, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the National Science Board, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission).
In general, those listed are presidential appointees (PA) or presidential appointees with senate confirmation (PAS). However, a nonpresidential appointment is listed if there is no one higher in the chain of command that can be expected to have a scientific or technical background and it is not a career appointment. For example, the director of basic energy sciences in the Department of Energy, who manages a billion-dollar program, is not listed because the director of the Office of Science is a presidential appointee higher in the line of command. However, this guideline will not be followed in exceptional cases, such as director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, who reports to the director of defense research and engineer-ing but also historically has a crucial role in innovative technology development. Also not listed are important career appointments such as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the science and technology advisor to the secretary of state, the deputy director for science and technology at the Central Intelligence Agency, and the director of research and development at Department of Homeland Security. These people are appointed by the relevant secretary or director, not the president.
Both lists focus on positions relevant to the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences. Positions traditionally held by social and behavioral scientists, including economists, are not included, because the number of these positions in the federal government is large and they are rarely viewed as involving input from a science adviser to the President.
Furthermore, each relevant cabinet agency is represented to identify the key S&T official or adviser in each agency.
Lists of this type inevitably involve judgment and are not unique. They do, however, represent the positions that the committee believes are most critical to S&T or in which S&T are critical factors in policy making. The goals of the lists are to provide guidance to those involved in the appointment process about the most criti-cal positions from the perspective of the S&T community, to encourage timely appointment to the positions, and to suggest policy positions beyond those traditionally filled with scientists and engineers for which such appointments may be considered.
In each table, the following appointment categories are used:
PAS = presidential appointment with Senate confirmation
PA = presidential appointment (without Senate confirmation)
NA = noncareer appointment
Defined by Office of Personnel Management as “appointment authority allocated on individual case basis by OPM; authority reverts to OPM when the noncareer appointee leaves the position. Appointments may be made only to General positions and cannot exceed 25 percent of the agency’s Senior Executive Service (SES) position allocation.” (Source: Office of Personnel Management Web site: http://www.opm.gov/ses/glossary.asp)
FT = fixed term appointment, with length of appointment indicated
KEY SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY POSITIONS
KEY SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY POLICY-RELATED POSITIONS
positions: accelerating the speed with which appointments are made; enhancing the process by which candidates are nominated, cleared, and confirmed; reducing pregovernment and postgovernment restrictions; and broadening the pool of potential candidates.
Accelerate the Appointment Process for Science and Technology Leadership
The growing importance of S&T in so many elements of policy-making and the need for clear policies with regard to day-to-day management of the scientific and engineering enterprise demand that there be minimal gaps or pauses in senior S&T leadership. Top S&T appointments must be made early in an administration. The nation learned from the work of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (known as the 9/11 Commission) and that of the Commission on National Security/21st Century that lapses in appointments and longstanding vacancies can have deleterious—even dangerous—consequences.1 This should be taken into account when the president is balancing the benefit of delaying an appointment to allow exhaustive scrutiny of the nominee (minimizing political risk) against the need to have an official in place.
The President’s Science Adviser
Selection of a confidential adviser on S&T immediately after the election, if one is not already in place, is essential to ensure that assistance is available to the incoming president in identifying the best candidates for key S&T appointments and to provide
advice in the event of a crisis. In the critical early days of a new administration, that person should be appointed to the post of assistant to the president for science and technology (the president’s science adviser, or APST) to serve as a respected personal and confidential adviser to the president on S&T-related policy issues—not as a representative of the S&T community.
The APST can also play a crucial role in identifying candidates for key S&T appointments and in advising the president on S&T considerations with regard to federal budget-making, an activity that will immediately confront a new administration. The annual federal investment in research and development is over $130 billion and about half of it is devoted to research. It is critical that an APST be in place as quickly as possible to advise the president and Cabinet members on various aspects of that substantial investment.
Some presidents have chosen not to appoint an APST. They are not required to do so; the establishment of the position is at the president’s discretion. In contrast, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) holds a statutory position with government-wide coordination obligations that do not encompass the important confidential advisory role that the APST should play. We urge that the president appoint an APST so that he has an adviser on S&T issues who has appropriate government-wide stature. Because of the overlap between the functions of the APST and the director of OSTP, the president should seek rapid Senate confirmation of his APST as director of OSTP.
About 6 months after his inauguration, President Bush announced his nominee for director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, John H. Marburger III. In October 2001, the Senate confirmed Dr. Marburger, and he officially took over the job several months later. In contrast, the Senate confirmed President Clinton’s nomination for the OSTP position, John Gibbons, on January 28, 1993, 8 days after the inauguration. In the George H. W. Bush administration, Allan Bromley was confirmed on August 3,
1989, 8 months after the inauguration. See appendix B for more details.
Shortly after the election, the President or President-elect should identify a candidate for the position of assistant to the president for science and technology (APST) to provide advice, including suggesting and recruiting other science and technology presidential appointees. After inauguration, the president should promptly both appoint this person as APST and announce the intent to nominate him or her as the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
Ideally, the APST will have credibility and the respect of the S&T community; an understanding of large research or educational enterprises; background as a practicing researcher (academic or nonacademic); awareness of a wide variety of public-policy issues; familiarity with issues in technology and national security, economic development, health and the environment, and international affairs; and the ability to work and communicate with others, including policy makers.
Because the APST does not require Senate confirmation, the nominee could be appointed immediately after the presidential inauguration without delay. However, because the APST cannot undertake the duties of OSTP director without Senate confirmation, the President should seek his or her rapid confirmation to facilitate a continuous connection between the two roles.
The committee understands that there are advantages and disadvantages associated with appointing the same person as both APST and OSTP Director. Although the APST cannot be required to testify, because of executive privilege, the OSTP director may be required to testify before congressional committees inasmuch as the director is subject to Senate confirmation. However, in some
administrations, the White House has responded to this concern by permitting the APST/OSTP director to testify on OSTP appropriations (which is essential), but not on policy matters involving the President. The concern in having two different people in these roles is that conflicts and differences of opinion might lead to confusion when science-based policy decisions need to be made by the White House.
Other S&T Leaders
Those who have served in S&T leadership positions report that they value their experience and feel that their appointments gave them an opportunity to make a substantive impact in achieving important public objectives. In a 2002 survey of the several hundred principals of the Council for Excellence in Government, for example, 74 percent of these former presidential appointees said that they were very satisfied with their work in government, and an equal percentage said that they would willingly return to government service. They cited numerous reasons to work for the federal government, including patriotism, the chance to be a part of history, and the opportunity to help a President in whom one believes.2 However, the same survey also highlighted some of the personal and financial burdens imposed by a commitment to public service.3 Those burdens include the long and uncertain appointment process, the lack of job security, the interruption of a career pathway or research pursuit, costly divesture requirements, and preemployment requirements and postemployment restrictions. If highly skilled people are to continue to be attracted to public service, changes are needed to reduce the burdens and to ensure that government service remains an attractive career option for our nation’s leading scientists and engineers.
The appointment process should be improved. Figure 1 provides an overview of this cumbersome process. The process can stretch on for long periods and involve considerable requests for information from nominees and their families for background checks and financial disclosures that ultimately become public knowledge. On the average, it takes more than 8 months to fill key
S&T positions that require Senate confirmation—an extended period of uncertainty for nominees and their families (see Appendix C). In preparing for the nomination and clearance process, a candidate typically faces a maze of regulations, reporting requirements, and administrative procedures imposed by the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), the General Services Administration (GSA), and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The Office of the Counsel to the President oversees this process, which often includes background investigations conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), OGE, and an ethics official for the agency to which the President wishes to appoint the candidate. As part of the process, the candidate usually prepares and submits several forms, including the Public Financial Disclosure Report (Standard Form [SF] 278), the Questionnaire for National Security Positions (SF 86), and the White House Personal Data Statement Questionnaire. OGE and the agency ethics officer may work with a candidate to resolve conflicts that surface during this stage. Once cleared, the nomination is ready to be submitted to the Senate. Additional information may then be sought by the Senate if the position requires Senate confirmation, and this involves further forms.
A 2000 survey of senior-level appointees who served in the second Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Clinton administrations found that delays in the clearance and confirmation processes are increasing, as are confusion and embarrassment (Brookings Institution, 2000). Compounding the administrative delays is the increasingly confrontational nature of the Senate confirmation process. The partisan tone of highly publicized Senate confirmation hearings in recent years (primarily in judiciary appointments) has bled into the confirmation process in general.
In view of the long delays that can occur because of a prolonged appointment process (see Figure 2), it is essential that presidential administrations ensure continuity in senior S&T leadership. Vacancies in leadership create uncertainty that can delay
or stymie critical R&D and related policies. During the appointment process, high-ranking career employees must be in place to ensure that there are no interruptions in the implementation of essential S&T programs. There should be continuity in the management of operations essential to the research enterprise. For example, the career employee could represent the department or agency in place of the absent political appointee.
The President and the Senate should streamline and accelerate the appointment process for all S&T personnel—indeed, all key personnel—to reduce the personal and financial burdens on nominees and to allow important positions to be filled promptly.
Streamlining could involve such mechanisms as relying on one system of background checks rather than separate systems for the White House and the Senate, clarifying the criteria for the position in question and the principles for questioning nominees, requesting only relevant and important background information, and keeping the process timely and on track with the goal of completing the appointment process within four months from first White House contact to Senate confirmation. The President can enhance and accelerate this process by
Reducing the time between first White House contact and the intent to nominate announcement.
Providing feedback to candidates on their status at all approval steps.
Coaching candidates on the myriad and complex conflict of interest, reporting, and divestiture requirements and ensuring that they understand the personal financial implications before accepting the nomination and notifying their current employers (see recommendation 3 for more details).
The committee also endorses the recommendations of the Brookings Institution Presidential Appointee Initiative Advisory Board (see Box 2) and the 9/11 Commission (see Box 3) as to how the presidential appointment process can be streamlined and accelerated. The Brookings Institution Presidential Appointee Initiative is the most recent and data-intensive analysis of the situation of those considered and nominated for presidential appointments. The recommendations of its nonpartisan commission are similar to those of this committee, illustrating that the
In April 2001, the Brookings Institution Presidential Appointee Initiative, a nonpartisan project funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, and whose advisory board was cochaired by Nancy Kassebaum Baker, former Republican Senator from Kansas, and Franklin D. Raines, former Director of the Office of Management and Budget, provided a set of recommendations as to how the presidential appointment process could be improved.
The following are some of the recommendations as to how they believe the nomination and confirmation process for presidential appointees can be streamlined.
SOURCE: Excerpts from The Presidential Appointee Initiative Advisory Board. 2001. To Form A Government: A Bipartisan Plan to Improve the Presidential Appointments Process. April. http://www.appointee.brookings.edu/events/reformag.pdf.
Improve the Transitions between Administrations
In chapter 6, we described the transition of 2000-2001. Beyond the policy issues we described, the new administration did not have its deputy cabinet officers in place until the spring of 2001, and the critical subcabinet officials were not confirmed until the summer—if then. In other words, the new administration—like others before it—did not have its team on the job until at least 6 months after it took office.
Recommendation: Since a catastrophic attack could occur with little or no notice, we should minimize as much as possible the disruption of national security policy making during the change of administrations by accelerating the process for national security appointments. We think the process could be improved significantly so transitions can work more effectively and allow new officials to assume their new responsibilities as quickly as possible.
SOURCE: The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. 2004. p. 422.
challenges for S&T appointees are not unlike those for other appointees.
Because many critical national-security positions are also key S&T positions, the emphasis of the 9/11 Commission on early national-security appointments applies with full force to many S&T appointments. That may require a broader view of what constitutes a national-security team than is currently the case.
In sum, the Brookings Institution recommends that the President
Create a permanent Office of Presidential Personnel in the Executive Office of the President.
Simplify and standardize the information-gathering forms used in the presidential appointment process and develop and maintain on-line interactive access to all such forms and questionnaires for persons going through the appointment process.
Undertake a comprehensive review of the ethics requirements imposed on political appointees with the goal of striking a balance between concerns about the integrity of those who serve and the need to eliminate intrusive or complex disclosure requirements.
And the Senate should adopt rules that
Limit the imposition of “holds” by all Senators to a total of no more than 14 days.
Require Senate confirmation votes within 45 days after receipt of a nomination.
Allow nominations to be reported out of the relevant
Senate committees (without a hearing) when a majority of committee members of each party concur.4
The Presidential Appointee Initiative Advisory Board. 2001. To Form A Government: A Bipartisan Plan to Improve the Presidential Appointments Process. April. http://www.appointee.brookings.edu/events/reformag.pdf.
Even more time-reducing measures should apply in the case of the national-security team. To summarize the key recommendations of the 9/11 Commission for accelerating the process even further:
A president-elect should submit names of candidates for national-security positions immediately after the election so that FBI background checks can be completed before Inauguration Day and then nominate these persons no later than Inauguration Day.
The Senate should adopt special rules requiring hearings and votes to confirm or reject nominees within 30 days of submission.
The burden on nominees could be reduced if the Senate and the executive branch could agree on a common set of forms on which both would rely in the nomination and confirmation process.
Remuneration levels can be a disincentive for some candidates. Presidential appointees not only earn less than their private-sector counterparts but are also substantially underpaid in constant dollars in comparison with past presidential appointees. A 2002 study of presidential appointee compensation by the Brookings Institution Presidential Appointee Initiative found that over the last several decades, federal executives’ salaries have declined both in purchasing power and in comparison with the pay of average workers.5
Figure 3 illustrates this concern by comparing the compensation levels for major university presidents with those of federal executives. The current OSTP director is a former university president, so the committee believes that this is a valid comparison. Compensation differentials could be even higher for those from industry or those who have major investments, such as stock
See Appendix D: Gary Burtless, How Much is Enough? Setting Pay for Presidential Appointees (Washington: Brookings, 2002), p. 7.
options, bonuses, and other compensation mechanisms. Such considerations can make it challenging for those at the peak of their careers to even consider presidential appointments.
Thus, it is possible that for some potential candidates compensation issues may deter the most competent and talented from serving in government leadership positions.6 In light of the inadequate relocation benefits available, presidential appointees are sometimes asked to pay a steep price to serve their country. That is true across the government, and salaries for presidential appointees are closely linked to the Executive Schedule pay system, which is ultimately determined by Congress.
It is important to keep in mind that strong candidates for such appointments seldom accept administration posts solely, or primarily, for the salary (see Appendix D). Nonetheless, equity considerations justify continuing efforts to ensure that those who enter government service are not required to make severe financial sacrifices.
Congress and the Office of Government Ethics should consolidate and simplify appointment policies and procedures to reduce the financial and vocational obstacles to government service.
The attractiveness of government service to scientists and engineers is often diminished by professional losses, such as an interruption of research, an irreversible career shift toward management, and the spending of time spent away from a fast-moving field. Some S&T leaders are naturally resistant to recruitment efforts.
When scientists and engineers are willing to consider presidential appointments, a key barrier to their willingness to take the next step is the unduly complex preemployment requirements and postemployment restrictions. Appendix J provides an analysis of this topic.
The requirements and restrictions are aimed at avoiding conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts of interest, but they weigh heavily in some people’s decisions about entering into public service in the first place. The sometimes costly and confusing restrictions that appointees face include
Divestiture or placement in a blind trust of potential appointee’s stock options and company shares.
A lifetime ban on representing another party regarding a policy on which the official had worked personally and substantially while in government service (“switching sides”).
A 2-year ban on switching sides on matters for which the official was more generally responsible.
A 1-year restriction on helping others with some trade and treaty negotiations.
See Appendix J for more details.
In addition, some high-ranking officials are barred for a year from interacting with officials of their former agencies on behalf of third parties. Some officials are also restricted for a year from representing foreign interests. Officials involved with procurement activities face particular limits on their work activities for a year after the end of their appointments.7 In general, appointees are also limited in their negotiations for future employment while they are still serving in government office.8
Previous COSEPUP reports, the Brookings Institution Presidential Appointee Initiative, and other analyses have recommended that the appointment process be streamlined by simplifying financial-disclosure reporting requirements, requiring OGE to review conflict-of-interest laws, and allowing OPM to provide a full list of appointed positions to each presidential candidate after each political party’s convention.9 The intended goal of the recommendations is to accelerate the appointment process and make it less onerous for nominated persons.
Some efforts have been made to streamline and harmonize the administrative requirements of being nominated to public service. For example, in 2001, OGE transmitted to the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs and the House Committee on Government Reform a report on completed and proposed improve-
ments in the financial-disclosure process for presidential nominees.10 The report, which had been required under the Presidential Transition Act of 2000,11 recommended five changes in the Ethics in Government Act, including reducing the number of valuation categories, shortening some reporting periods, limiting the scope of reporting by raising some dollar thresholds, reducing details that are unnecessary for conflict-of-interest analysis, and eliminating redundant reporting. This committee believes that those proposed changes are reasonable and should be made.
The Presidential Appointments Improvement Act of 2001 was introduced and reported out by the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs but was not acted on by the full Senate during the 107th Congress.12 It would have revised the financial-disclosure process for executive branch personnel covered under the Ethics in Government Act. The bill included a substantial part of legislation that had been drafted by OGE. Interest in the proposed changes in the Ethics in Government Act continued in the 108th Congress. New legislation was introduced in both the Senate and the House in 2003 but did not come to a vote.13
Reform is clearly needed. Because of the critical need for input by high-level S&T leadership in program implementation and current policy debates, it is imperative that key positions not sit vacant for long periods because qualified and willing candidates cannot be recruited or because the appointment process causes unreasonable delays.
Many of the proposed changes require actions by both the executive and legislative branches. Some mechanisms for consolidating and simplifying the process are standardizing and clarifying preemployment requirements and postemployment restrictions, reducing unreasonable financial and professional losses for those who serve by simplifying financial-disclosure reporting requirements (for example, evaluating a de minimis rule), eliminating many of the restrictions associated with the use of blind trusts, and ensuring continuing health insurance and pension-plan coverage.
Broaden the Pool of Potential Candidates
Creating a larger pool of potential candidates for key S&T positions is likely to improve the choices made. Thus, presidential administrations must ensure that it has mechanisms in place to expand the search to include input from the scientific and engineering communities on potential nominees and to continue an active campaign to increase the numbers of women and minority group members appointed to top-level posts.
Representation of women and underrepresented minorities is improving in many professions, but progress has been slower in the scientific and engineering workforce. For example, in 2001, women made up 25.3 percent and underrepresented groups 5.9 percent of the entire science and engineering doctoral workforce.14 The pool of qualified candidates for S&T appointments is insufficiently broad and diverse, and women and some minorities are often underrepresented in the highest ranks of S&T leadership. That is due in part to less-than-optimal representation in the S&T community in general and the fact that many women and members of underrepresented groups are early in their careers. By drawing from a limited pool of potential candidates, the scientific enterprise suffers.
The APST and other senior administration leadership should actively seek input from accomplished and recognized S&T leaders and from a broad and diverse set of constituencies when seeking candidates for S&T appointments.
To improve the search for qualified S&T appointees and to build a strong pool of candidates with policy experience now and in the future, professional science, engineering, and health societies should suggest emerging leaders in their fields to serve in government positions, including federal advisory committees, and should expand junior and senior internship and fellowship programs that provide their members with government and policy experience. Continuing efforts should be made to identify women and members of underrepresented groups for such positions.