Peter Sperry

I’ve been on both sides of this issue. One of my most discourgaing moments in government was as a Schedule C appointee trying to establish good relations between my Senate confirmed boss and the career staff. Some of the feedback I recieved to my face was: “public policy should not change just because there has been an election”, “we outlasted your predecessor, we’ll outlast you”, and “you need us more than we need you”. Going on behind my back, but not hard to figure out, were the career staff who were leaking sensitive discussions to outside special interest groups, including one who had the opposing party’s press office on speed dial.

Ironically, the most helpful career staff, who I came to value highly, were several Ramspecked employees from the opposing party who had burrowed in under the previous administration. While they strongly disagreed with the new administrations policies, they also deeply believed that elections do have consequences and the role of career staff should be to do everything possible to assist politicals in being successful even if they fully intended to vote against them in the next election. These people set the standard for me of what a dedicted government employees should be regardless of whether they were appointed or career. Today, I am career myself and do my best to emulate their example.

I absolutely believe good career staff are the heart and sole of an effective government orgainization, as long as they are willing to set aside personal or political agendas and dedicate themselves to making each new administration as successful as possible. I also believe appointees are equally critical to that success. They are (or should be) the ones who articulate and clarify the administration’s agenda, identify the measurements to determine if the agenda is succeeding and take responsibility at the ballot box if it fails.

The role of junior politicals (Schedule Cs) to experienced career staff should be like 2nd liutenants and senior NCOs. Yes they are wet behind the ears and often overcompensate but a good seargant helps them become effective leaders so when they come back as Field Grade or General officers (Senate confirmed appointees or elected officials) they are a true asset rather than a hinderence.

If the politicals you deal with are inexperienced, what do you do to bring them up to speed? Do you seek to understand each new administration’s priorities or fall back on “this is the way it is, always has been and always will be”? Can your politicals trust you to implent the new adminstration’s agenda even if you feel it is misguided? Can they know that confidential off the record discussions will remain confidential?

Frankly, the expanding role of politicals under all administrations has been driven by negative answers to these questions. At a certain point, Presidents, Cabinet Secretaries and Senate confirmed appointees, measured in the unforgiving glare of the modern media, want to be surrounded by people they trust. That was the reason I was given a Schedule C position. And my pledge now that I am career is to support the current adminstrations agenda 100% at work and not undermine or oppose any portion of it related to my agency when not at work. I reserve the right to make my own judgement on issues unrelated to my agency, vote how I please and volunteer for candidates I respect but when I am on the clock, my heart and soul belongs to the administration. When your politicals can confidently say the same about you, they may become easier to work with.