Analyzing the Evidence Exercises

Once Congress passes and the president signs a bill into law, it falls to the bureaucracy to implement (and in many cases interpret) the provisions of the legislation. For this reason, both the president and Congress care deeply about who is employed by the federal government. Most federal employees are civil servants whose job status is not affected by politics; rather, they are appointed and promoted on the basis of merit. In contrast, political appointees owe their position to a political patron — the president. Therefore, they have a greater incentive to be loyal to the president’s wishes.

This figure shows the number of political appointees along with their percentage of the federal workforce.

Total Number of Federal Government Appointees and Percentage Appointed

1. What is the overall trend in the number and percentage of political appointees over time?
More specifically, what is the rate of change in the absolute number of political appointees from 1960 to 2008?
When appointing individuals to the bureaucracy, presidents often have to weigh two key considerations — the person’s loyalty to the president’s policy preferences and the person’s competence or qualifications for the job. Furthermore, the president’s ability to “politicize” the bureaucracy by appointing loyalists varies depending on the circumstances.
3. Under what circumstances do you think a president would be most likely to politicize appointments?
The table below shows the average change in the number of appointees from 1960–2008 under differenct political contexts.i
  Approximate Change
in Appointees
Partisanship of the President  
Party Change 300
No Party Change -100
Partisanship of the President and Congress  
Unified Government 400
Divided Government -50
How does the partisanship of the president in comparison to his predecessor affect political appointments?
5. What is one hypothesis you might offer for this pattern? In your answer, be sure to describe WHY you think this hypothesis might be supported in the data presented above.
6. Looking again at the preceding table, how does the partisanship of the president and Congress in tandem (unified versus divided government) affect political appointments?
7. What is one hypothesis you might offer for this pattern? Again, be sure to describe WHY you think this hypothesis is supported in the data.

i Lewis, David E. 2008. The Politics of Presidential Appointments: Political Control and Bureaucratic Performance. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pg. 89-92. 

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