Presidential appointees are the ones who can cause change |

Presidential appointees are the ones who can cause change

Jim Roberts

In the presidential race, those voters who are still undecided have been ” like the rest of us ” subjected to structured forums, attack ads, and stump speeches by the candidates and campaign leaders. One policy goal of both presidential candidates is to “clean up the mess in Washington.” Each candidate sees himself as a better agent of change than his opponent. Senator McCain touts his record as a maverick; Senator Obama argues that McCain will only provide four more years of the failed Bush administration.

The “Plum Book” may provide some insight on which candidate will be the better change agent

The Plum Book (United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions) is issued every four years. The current edition lists over 9,000 noncompetitive positions in the federal government. Many of these will be strongly involved in the policy development process. This group includes agency heads and their immediate support staffs. All presidents have needed such people to help formulate goals and to support those goals when they become administration policy. Whichever candidate wins, the Plum Book positions will present both problems and opportunities

Clearly, Senator McCain will have the far more difficult task. To preserve his maverick status, he will have to make substantial changes in current Bush policies. This will not be easy because McCain agrees with most of these policies.

The war in Iraq ” on which much campaign time is being spent ” provides a powerful example. During the Bush administration, various State Department functions were usurped by the Defense Department. In addition, much of the information provided to the State Department by the C.I.A. and the Defense Department was inaccurate, incomplete or purposely distorted. Responsibilities for the misinformation have been attributed to Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and a group of appointees, frequently called “neoconservatives,” who developed many of our policies in the Middle East. These include the war in Iraq, uncritical support of Israel, and the general policy of preemption, which holds that the President may take action against any nation that he believes threatens our security.

If McCain wins, the voters must ask whether he supports these policies. It is also important that McCain recognize the power of the “neocons” in the Bush administration. They were a major force in preventing Secretary of State Colin Powell from achieving his two-state solution to the Palestine problem. Directly or indirectly the neocons influence policies facing our country in the areas of health care, education, Social Security and tax policy.

Most policy positions in the Bush administration are staffed by persons that represent groups that reflect and support Bush’s policies. Changing personnel in any of these areas risks alienating these groups This makes changes difficult to achieve. Even in the critical areas of Middle East policy, and the difficulties facing the American economy, a McCain presidency would face enormous burdens.

In addition, each candidate faces the problem of filling those positions that are noncompetitive and nonpolitical. In the past, many of the noncompetitive Plum Book positions were filled with persons with particular skills such as scientific expertise, economic savvy and managerial competence. Such persons frequently come from different segments of our society. These include: private industry, universities, research institutions, and senior civil servants who are “promoted” to higher levels of administration. Others are selected from current and past administrations who have demonstrated their competence.

Unfortunately, the younger Bush presidency has been quite different from his predecessors. Presidents Roosevelt and Eisenhower, for example, frequently sought diversity of opinions in staffing. Under the leadership of Karl Rove, in the Bush Administration political conformity outweighed administrative competence. This approach to staffing will make it difficult for the next president to become the agent for change. It will be a much greater problem for McCain than Obama. . McCain, will have to deal with many people in the current Bush administration ” people who represent or reflect important segments of the Republican base

The existing Bush administration will not encumber the staffing of an Obama presidency. It is reasonable to expect that the noncompetitive and nonpolitical positions will be staffed, in part, on the basis of competence. Persons who have significant differences with the Bush administration will fill political levels of Obama’s administration. Foreign policy will be based on diplomacy and understanding rather than military force. In other policy areas such as Social Security, health care, and education, positions will be filled by persons supportive of these programs. When it comes to the economy and tax policies, Obama has already given his support for the “bubble up” rather than the “trickle down” theory of Bush and McCain tax policy.

Whatever your personal views on the above policies may be, an Obama administration would, at least, provide a fresh start.

Jim Roberts of Carson City is a Professor Emeritus of the University of Nevada and a former state deputy budget director.