Government Operations:

Characteristics of Presidential Appointments that do not Require Senate Confirmation

GAO-13-299R: Published: Mar 1, 2013. Publicly Released: Mar 1, 2013.

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J. Christopher Mihm
(202) 512-3236
mihmj@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

In summary, GAO found the following:

  • There are 321 PA positions governmentwide, which fall into three general groups-- 67 percent of PA positions exist within commissions, councils, committees, boards or foundations; another 29 percent of PA positions are within the Executive Office of the President (EOP); and the remaining 4 percent are within other federal departments or agencies. Within each of these three groups, PA positions are concentrated in a small number of entities.
  • The responsibilities of PAs vary between the three general groups of PAs. PAs in commissions, councils, committees, boards, or foundations often serve in an advisory capacity and, at times, have specific responsibilities to evaluate, oversee, or establish policy to implement the organizations' mission. The majority of PAs within the EOP provide advisory and administrative support to the President on a range of issues, including policy advice on national security, homeland security, domestic policy, and economic policy, as well as assistance in managing relations with key stakeholders, such as Congress, executive departments and agencies, and state and local governments. Responsibilities for PAs within federal departments or agencies vary. Some serve as assistants or advisors to Presidential Appointments with Senate confirmation (PAS) officials and as U.S. representatives to United Nations organizations. Others have more central leadership roles, such as the Director of the National Cancer Institute who coordinates the National Cancer Program.
  • Presidents have significant latitude in determining the selection of PA officials. However, at times, statutes prescribe the required qualifications for selected PAs or the population from which they must be chosen. These requirements occur more often for PA appointments to a commission, council, committee, board or foundation.
  • Salaries for PA positions vary between the three general groups of PAs. For example, positions with the EOP and federal departments and agencies are typically full time positions without term limits that are paid a salary ranging from $99,628 to about $180,000. However, PAs appointed to a commission, council, committee, board or foundation are typically paid a daily rate of pay only while serving or are not compensated. These positions most often serve a term between 3 and 6 years and their service is intermittent.
  • The majority of PA positions are located in Washington, D.C., and were created within the last 43 years. For example, while one of the 321 PA positions was established as early as 1889 at the International Boundary and Water Commission, the majority of these positions--which are in councils, commissions, committees, boards, or foundations--were created between 1970 and 2000.
  • Overall, PAs differ from other types of political appointments in three key areas: number of positions, rate of pay, and level of responsibilities. Out of the four major categories of politically appointed positions--PAS, PAs, politically appointed Senior Executive Service, and Schedule C appointees--PAs represent the smallest number (9 percent). Moreover, as previously noted, the majority of all PAs are typically not paid a salary. Other politically appointed positions are typically paid a salary that ranges between about $110,000 to $180,000. PAs have a significant level of responsibility in implementing the Administration's goals, but often are subordinate to a PAS position. PAS positions are at the top of the federal personnel hierarchy and are often responsible for making key policy decisions to implement an administration's goals (e.g., cabinet members).

Why GAO Did This Study

On August 10, 2012, the President signed into law the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011 (Streamlining Act of 2011). The act eliminated the need for the Senate to vote on 163 executive nominations, converting them to presidentially appointed positions. The act required GAO to report to Congress and the President on positions in executive agencies that require appointment by the President without Senate confirmation (PA).

As agreed, in discussions with Congressional offices about GAO's scope, the objective of this review was to describe the characteristics of executive branch PA positions in existence prior to the implementation of the Streamlining Act of 2011. Specifically, GAO describes the numbers, types (e.g., members of commissions, councils, advisory boards, etc.), responsibilities, locations, dates established, length of terms, and salaries, as well as common characteristics among the presidentially appointed positions and how they differ from other types of positions. Based on available Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data, GAO also provided information on the total number of staff employed by the entities with presidentially appointed positions. GAO provided a briefing of this summary to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on February 7, 2013.

For more information, contact J. Christopher Mihm at (202) 512-6806 or mihmj@gao.gov.

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