Accessibility links

United States: Few U.S. Officials Lose Jobs After Election

  • Charles Recknagel

Washington, 28 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - U.S. President Bill Clinton is considering cabinet changes for his second term in office, but the overwhelming majority of U.S. government officials will remain in their jobs, unaffected by the recent U.S. elections.

This is because some 99 percent of U.S. government officials are career Civil Service employees whose professions are independent of whatever party holds power or whatever administration is in office. They may be fired for poor job performance, but they can neither be hired nor dismissed because of their political affiliation.

The Civil Service currently numbers some 2.75 million employees, excluding military personnel. They are responsible for providing all the services of the federal government, ranging from delivering mail to collecting taxes to administering social assistance programs. Their positions range from clerical to the highest levels of management, guaranteeing that the U.S. government will continue to function according to the laws of the country independently of political changes.

Steven Hess, an expert on U.S. government at the Brookings Institution in Washington, says that the number of government officials directly appointed by the Presidential administration rarely numbers more than 3,000. The appointments are limited to specific high-level positions designated in each federal department as exceptional Civil Service positions, or "Schedule C" slots. High-level appointees, such as cabinet officials, are also permitted to bring in a limited number of assistants at lower civil service grades.

Hess says that as a result of this month's American elections, the President is likely to replace perhaps 1,000 of his political appointees with new faces. Many of those departing office will be leaving to return to jobs in the private sector after four years in government. Many of their replacements will be obtaining positions as rewards for their services to the victorious Democratic Party.

The highest offices set to change hands are those of Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense. Clinton accepted the resignations of both the incumbents, Warren Christopher and William Perry, earlier this month.

Analysts say that in changing his Cabinet, President Bill Clinton is following a tradition of second-term presidents of allowing tired officials to leave and of nudging out others to reshape the government to his liking.

"This is not unusual. This is what tends to happen in second terms," says Hess. "These are, if not killing jobs, they are certainly high energy jobs. Many Cabinet officers are not young."

By appointing and changing high level officials, the President is able to set the policy direction of government agencies and ensure that federal employees cooperate with his administration to the extent of the law. But U.S. laws also provide safeguards to federal employees to protect against appointees abusing their power for political or personal ends.

Legislation at all levels of the government protects federal employees who report to the proper authority abuse of power, as well as misappropriation of funds and incompetence, by government officials. Those who report abuses are colloquially known as "whistle blowers" and are legally protected against repercussions from their superior officials.

Civil Service employees themselves also are prevented by law from using their official positions for political ends. A U.S. law known as the Hatch Act forbids civil servants from using their personal influence or work facilities for partisan politics, or for raising funds for political causes.