Obama-Romney debate: Binders full of questions

ADVERTISEMENT
Take the reference last night to “Binders”. Governor Romney inarticulately explained a quite mundane, but important step in transitions of power, be they gubernatorial or presidential. The incoming administration expends an inordinate amount of time preparing reports and collating resumes. These end up in massive binders that are shared with the leaders of the transition and those chosen for key positions. The General Services Administration (GSA), the agency tasked with managing the transition period, in fact uses the image of an artfully arrayed set of binders as the visual embodiment of the transition.


More to the point, the personnel binders to which Romney referred contain the pool of candidates for thousands of openings in a new administration. Of course, not every federal position is newly appointed, but the new president is given discretion to make hundreds of appointments. As you read this, thousands of Romney supporters are likely pouring over the “Plum Book”, published every four years by Congress, that details all policy positions in government, both career and non-career, and the current salary.

Personnel are so important to an incoming administration that the work begins long before Election Day. Pendleton James, President Ronald Reagan’s personnel guru, met with Edwin Meese in secret at a Northern Virginia Bob’s Big Boy to insure the press – and the Carter Campaign – did not know how thoroughly Reagan’s team was preparing for a victory in 1980. James had 100 staffers helping him sort through resumes in the bygone days before rapidly emailed cover letters. Today, tens of thousands of resume are being sent by eager job seekers to those planning for the presidential transition, still weeks before the Election. Clay Johnson, who supervised personnel for President George W. Bush, estimated that 40,000 would be submitted within just 24 hours after the Election.

Mike Leavitt, Governor Romney’s choice to lead the “Readiness Project”, is the one you might want to send your resume if you are on the market for a job in a Romney administration. Leavitt supervises the process to evaluate the qualifications of potential appointees; weighing factors such as those raised in last night’s debate, but also race and ethnicity, educational background, and job experience. Loyalty of course is also important; so important that the incoming administration often designates someone to insure that it is rewarded. George W. Bush oversaw a “Silent Committee” to undertake this for his father, and Michael Whouley for President Clinton in 1992. So beware those of you with Gingrich, Santorum, and Perry staff positions on your resume.

Governor Romney’s remark last night has been panned as insensitive and crass. In hindsight, though, it may be better examined for what it suggests about how he will govern. In the third debate, I hope he and President Obama are questioned about personnel. The issue has come up briefly in respect to the Supreme Court, but regardless of who wins, appointments will be made. History suggests that President Obama would replace nearly half his Cabinet, and with those changes, dozens more sub-Cabinet positions. Who is on his short list for a second-term position at State, Treasury, and Defense?

If Governor Romney wins, how will he evaluate candidates? Will he seek out racial, ethnic, and gender balance in his Cabinet? Will the Governor promote the bi-partisanship he has espoused during the debate in his appointments?

These questions may not generate headlines, but the answers will determine course of the next four years.

Brown is an assistant professor of Political Science and Public Administration at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J.  He is the autor of the recent book, Lobbing the New President: Interests in Transition, published by Routledge..