Managing in a Political Environment

To the Incoming Sub-Cabinet: You’ve Been Nominated, Confirmed, and Sworn in—But You Are New to Washington, Now What?

Congratulations! You have received a presidential appointment and have been confirmed by the United States Senate. While you may be an expert in a given field of public policy, that’s not enough. In addition to your substantive knowledge, you need to know:

  • What is the President’s policy in your areas of responsibility?
  • Is it a change from what it has been in the past?
  • How will you find that out?

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Cultivating Four Key Government Constituencies: A Guide for New Political Appointees

Most political appointees come to Washington to serve in a programmatic role.  They probably already are familiar with the policy orientations of key interest groups involved in that programmatic area. However, there are four key governmental constituencies that a new Senate-confirmed political appointee is well advised to cultivate if he or she is to be successful inside the Beltway.   These key constituencies include:

  • Your agency head
  • Your Office of Management and Budget (OMB) budget examiner
  • Key congressional staff
  • Your career Senior Executive Service (SES) staff

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What Every New Political Appointee Should Know

Over the next several months, the Obama Administration will put together their second term team, with many positions to be filled by new appointees. At the recent annual meeting of the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), we had the unique opportunity to bring together a group of NAPA fellows to discuss – based on their prior experience in government -- what advice they would give to new appointees after their nomination. Our discussion focused on two key time periods: prior to confirmation and during their “early days” after confirmation.

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Advice to New Appointees: How to Influence the Policy Agenda

A strong motivation for political appointees in coming to Washington is the opportunity to positively influence policy – to make a difference.  Senior level appointees may bring the expectation of setting a portion of the administration’s agenda related to their agency’s mission. This is particularly likely for a first time appointee who hasn’t experienced or operated within the government complex previously. In fact, the very characteristics that enabled executives to set and achieve goals in the private sector - decisive, directive, risk taker - may actually undermine their prospects for success as government officials.  

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Advice to Appointees: Three Conversations to Have Right Away

The list of people seeking an audience with newly appointed heads of federal agencies fills up quickly from the moment of confirmation. Included in this list are internal stakeholders within the agency who have executed this drill previously and are prepared with briefing materials. Congress, the media and other government-focused groups are also anxious to engage.

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