Career appointees ‘make leaders more engaging than political appointees’

By Jack Aldane on 03/03/2022 | Updated on 03/03/2022

The US federal government currently employs about 1,100 Senate-confirmed executives, who tend to view their role differently from career executives.

A survey report of 300 offices by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service found that US federal employees feel more satisfied with their jobs when they are led by a career civil servant than by someone appointed by political leaders.

The report showed that job satisfaction in agency subcomponents led by career senior executives was 12% higher than those led by Senate-confirmed and president-chosen individuals. When examined through a combination of several questions, including job and job satisfaction from the annual Federal Employee Views Survey, employees in career-led workplaces scored an engagement score of 69.4 out of 100, seven percentage points higher than for employees who worked in offices. with leaders confirmed by the Senate in charge.

The partnership said possible reasons for the finding could be that, while political appointees only serve an average of two and a half years in their agencies, career leaders typically serve for longer periods. The impact of this is that career leaders provide a greater sense of stability to employees, while political appointees struggle to motivate the workforce.

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The report adds that the result of high turnover among appointees is that institutional reforms are more difficult to achieve. While in service, appointees also tend to struggle to adapt to an organization’s culture.

“For most agencies, two and a half years is not enough to understand, plan, implement and evaluate the effectiveness of reforms that would impact the development, support, empowerment or supervision of employees”, said the partnership.

“Similarly, the loss of institutional knowledge with turnover can disrupt program continuity and make it more difficult for agencies to fulfill their missions.”

Different Styles and Perspectives of Career Officials

The report showed that the number of political appointees heading agencies increased by 59% over the period from 1960 to 2016. The US federal government currently employs about 1,100 Senate-confirmed executives, who, according to the Partnership for the civil service, tend to view their roles differently from career managers.

According to the report, Senate-confirmed executives are appointed by the president and often see it as their duty to manage the president’s political agenda. This often disrupts the continuity of employee goals, leaving them unprepared and disengaged with work that deviates from their skill set.

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“The presence, absence, and management style of decision-makers in agencies influence how an organization approaches its goals, the environment and behavior within agencies, and even the posture that stakeholders adopt toward that agency” , said the partnership.

On the points of leadership style, the partnership report said political appointments often bring new perspectives to agencies, as well as more energy and a greater appetite for risk. However, the less political perspectives that career leaders develop over many years of experience and institutional knowledge allow them to better understand agencies. This, combined with their program and policy expertise, makes them better able to address and resolve legacy issues.

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Unlike other agencies, the partnership’s report says NASA is led by a president’s appointee, but it topped the rankings. List of Best Partnership Workplaces in Government for several consecutive years.

“[NASA] has a ratio of approximately one Senate appointee to 4,000 full-time non-seasonal permanent career public servants, suggesting that combining the political leadership of appointees with the knowledge of career leaders can lead to fruitful synergies.

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