What to Know About Presidential Appointments

President Trump signing his first executive order

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Some presidential appointments require the approval of the Senate but many do not. Aside from Cabinet secretaries and Supreme Court justices, whose nominations require the approval of the Senate, the President of the United States has the authority to appoint people to high-level positions within the federal government unilaterally.

Presidentially appointed positions occupy five levels in the Executive Schedule, a tiered system of salaries of top-ranking executive officials. These annual salaries range from $160,100 to $219,200 and positions include full federal employee benefits but do not qualify for leave.

How Many Presidentially Appointed Positions Are There?

In a 2013 report to Congress, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified 321 presidentially-appointed (PA) positions governmentwide that do not require Senate confirmation.

These positions include those serving on federal commissions, councils, committees, boards, and foundations; those serving within the Executive Office of the President; and those serving federal agencies or departments. These three groups include all PA positions across the government. The first category accounts for 67% of PAs, the second for 29%, and the third for 4%.

Of these 321 PA positions, 163 were created on August 10, 2012, when President Obama signed the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act. The act converted 163 presidential nominations, all of which had previously required Senate hearings and approval, to positions appointed directly by the president. According to the GAO, most PA positions were created between 1970 and 2000, ("Characteristics of Presidential Appointments That Do Not Require Senate Confirmation").

What Each Type of PA Is Responsible For

PAs appointed to commissions, councils, committees, boards, and foundations typically serve as advisors in some capacity. They may be assigned some degree of responsibility for evaluating or even creating their organization's policy and direction.

PAs in the Executive Office of the President (EOP) often directly support the president by providing advisory and administrative assistance. They might be expected to advise the president on a wide range of areas, including foreign relations, U.S. and international economic policy, and homeland security. PAs in the EOP also assist in maintaining relationships between the White House and Congress, executive branch agencies, and state and local governments.

The responsibilities of PAs serving directly in federal agencies and departments are the most diverse. Some may be assigned to assist presidential appointees in positions that require Senate approval, while some may serve as U.S. representatives to United Nations organizations. Still, others may hold leadership roles at highly visible non-agency organizations such as the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health.

In most cases, there are no specific qualifications for PA positions, and since the appointments do not come under Senate scrutiny, selections are subject to being used as political favors. However, positions on commissions, councils, committees, boards, and foundations often have legally-required qualifications.

How Much PAs Make

Most PAs are not actually paid a salary. According to the GAO 2013 report, 99% of all PAs—those serving as advisors to commissions, councils, committees, boards, and foundations—are either not compensated at all or are paid a daily rate of $634 or less only while serving.

The remaining 1% of PAs—those in the EOP and those serving in federal agencies and departments—were paid salaries ranging from $145,700 to $165,300 in the 2012 fiscal year. However, there are notable exceptions well outside of this range. For example, the Director of the National Cancer Institute is a PA position within the Department of Health and Human Services that receives a salary of $350,000, reported the GAO. Present annual PA salaries range from $150,200 to $205,700, ("Characteristics of Presidential Appointments That Do Not Require Senate Confirmation").

PA positions in the EOP and federal departments and agencies are mostly full-time jobs without term limits. PAs appointed to commissions, councils, committees, boards, and foundations, on the other hand, serve intermittent terms for three to six years.

Other Types of Politically Appointed Positions

Overall, there are four main categories of politically appointed positions: Presidential Appointments with Senate confirmation (PAS), Presidential Appointments without Senate confirmation (PSs), political appointees to the Senior Executive Service (SES), and Schedule C political appointees.

Persons in SES and Schedule C positions are typically appointed by PAS and PA appointees rather than the President themselves. However, all appointments to SES and Schedule C posts must be reviewed and approved by the Executive Office of the President.

As of 2016, there were a total of 8,358 politically appointed federal positions, including 472 PA positions, 1,242 PAS positions, 837 SES positions, and 1,538 Schedule C positions, ("Summary of Positions Subject to Noncompetitive Appointment").

What Each Politically Appointed Position Does

Presidential Appointments with Senate confirmation (PAS) positions are the top of the federal personnel "food chain" and include positions such as cabinet agency secretaries, top administrators, and deputy administrators of the non-cabinet agencies. Holders of PAS positions have direct responsibility for implementing the president's goals and policies. These are Executive Schedule Level 1 positions, the highest-paying roles on the Executive Schedule. For comparison, the salary for Executive Schedule Level 5 positions is $160,100, for Level 4 positions is $170,800, for Level 3 positions is $181,500, for Level 2 is $197,300, and for Level 1 is $219,200, ("Rates of Basic Pay for the Executive Schedule").

PAs, though responsible for implementing White House goals and policies, often serve under PAS appointees. Senior Executive Service (SES) appointees serve in positions just below PAS appointees. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, SES members "are the major link between these appointees and the rest of the Federal workforce. They operate and oversee nearly every government activity in approximately 75 Federal agencies," ("Senior Executive Service"). In the 2013 fiscal year, salaries for Senior Executive Service appointees ranged from $119,554 to $179,700.

Schedule C appointments are typically non-career assignments to positions ranging from regional directors of agencies to staff assistants and speech writers. Schedule C appointees usually change with each new incoming presidential administration, making them the category of presidential appointments most likely to be handed out as "political favors." Salaries for Schedule C appointees range from $67,114 to $155,500.

SES and Schedule C appointees typically serve in subordinate roles to PAS and PA appointees.

At the Pleasure of the President

By their very nature, presidential political appointments are not for people looking for a stable, long-term career. To be appointed in the first place, political appointees are expected to support the policies and goals of the president's administration. As the GAO puts it, "Individuals serving in political appointments generally serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority and do not have the job protections afforded to those in career-type appointments," ("Characteristics of Presidential Appointments That Do Not Require Senate Confirmation").

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