Political appointees, individuals appointed by government leaders to positions of power, play a large role in all aspects of American government.
Generally, when someone refers to a political appointee, particularly in the United States, they are referring to an individual who has been given a position of significant political power--usually by the President. When referring to this specific type of political appointment, there are four significant areas of interest:
- presidential appointments made with the oversight of the Senate, in which an individual serves at the pleasure of the President
- appointments made without the consent of the Senate
- Non-Career Senior Executive Service appointments
- appointments in which the individual in question serves at the pleasure of the head of an agency.
Many would argue that the individuals who fill these positions serve as valuable assets to the American system of government. However, what proponents of political appointments fail to recognize is the plethora of potential issues that arise in a system of government that utilizes political appointments.
Perhaps the most prominent issue that could arise from a political appointment is a situation in which a conflict of interest becomes apparent. For example, when President Obama selected Tom Daschle as his choice for secretary of health and human services, many government watch groups questioned his ability to be fair and impartial. The issue arose because Daschle used to be a board member of the Mayo Clinic and a highly paid adviser at the law firm of Alston and Bird—specifically to health care clients. At issue in this case is Daschle's ability to be impartial in matters regarding prior clients—many of whom are likely to play a role in the daily life of the secretary of health and human services.
Quite apart from the issue of conflict of interest is the issue of the appointment itself and the motives behind it. One could question the potential personal agendas behind a particular political appointment. The President's ability to nominate a candidate for the Supreme Court brings into question his or her motives behind doing so. Seeing as the justices on the Court have the power to issue broad directives regarding matters including criminal procedure, religion, educational reform, and fiscal restructure, it is imperative to understand that the appointment of an individual to a position of such power often comes with an inherent sense of loyalty to the individual who appointed them in the first place. Generally speaking, nominees to the Supreme Court may feel pressured to engage in a form of quid pro quo; doling out decisions on legislation that would help a President's position on an issue. However, even if a nominee does refuse to compromise their ideals and votes in a way that contradicts the position of the President, they still face a myriad of issues, thus the issue of political appointments still remains.
The most blatant issue with political appointments however, is the lack of voter participation. Modern democracies such as the United States are based upon the fundamental premise that the individual has a say in his or her government. Opponents may argue that the role of the individual is marginal, and that through representation, true democracy is achieved. However, the increasingly diminishing role of the individual in government participation should be of great concern. For a political leader to have the ability to select an individual to fill a position of power, without the oversight of the American people, fundamentally undermines the mindset of a country that eschews the consolidation of power by one group or individual.
In the 2008 election, 56.8% of the eligible voting age population showed up at the polls. This shows a severe lack of governmental participation among eligible citizens. Coupled with the severe implications of political appointments, the deterioration of the fundamental system of American government will soon follow.
Further problems with political appointments include the lack of oversight. Left unchecked, political appointees can do a great deal of damage as their sphere of influence is relatively large. Former Surgeon General of the United States Richard H. Carmona accused the Bush administration of political interference—specifically from political appointees. He stated that the supervisors of the nation's doctor were individuals who promoted political agendas. Left unchecked by a regulatory commission, these political appointees take advantage of their position and use it to promote a political agenda that can both promote an administrations position and damage the American government.
Political appointments are largely detrimental to the American government.
Although they serve a purpose by filling positions, they damage in more ways than they help. For the American system of government to be truly effective and efficient, voter participation must increase and these appointments need to either be drastically scaled back or eliminated entirely.