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Political appointees — A guide to ward off pitfalls and challenges

Avatar of Emily Jarvis
Emily Jarvis

The November elections are quickly approaching, and no matter who wins, the next term means a whole new crop of political appointees will be joining government.

The challenges facing those appointees are vast — especially in the first two years.

Paul Lawrence is a Principal at Ernst and Young. In his new book,
 Paths to Making a Difference, Lawrence sat down with 24 top political executives for three extended interviews. The goal was simple — he wanted to track their learning curves and chronicle their lessons learned.


He told Chris Dorobek on the
 DorobekINSIDER what intrigued him about this project.








Lawrence Lessons for Success:



  1. Accept the right job — “You can’t be a policy person in an operations role.”
  2. Make sure you know your job description — “Sit down and describe the job expectations and what you AREN’T going to do.”
  3. Find the few things that matter — “Often times people want to accomplish too much, you need to be careful of the urgents.”

5 Categories of Political Appointees:

  1. Producers -
people who process information (Patent and Trademark Office etc.)
  2. Infostructors – people who both deal with infostructure issues but don’t actually build the product (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration/NTSB)
  3. Regulators — people who enforce the rules (Securities and Exchange Commission/Nuclear Regulatory Commission)
  4. Scientists – people who have a deep understanding of both the science and the political machine (National Institute of Standards and Technology/ Department of the Interior)
  5. Collaborators — people who have no direct authority over the people they influence, their job is to steer policies in a suggested direction (Office of Personnel Management)

Key Quotes from Lawrence:

  • “At this level everybody’s smart, the difference between a successful political appointee and an unsuccessful one is experience. How well can they work in the policial machine.”
  • One of the main takeaways from the 24 political appointees profiled, “The more they worked with the career feds the more they liked them and appreciated their work.”

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