Posts Tagged ‘political appointee’

Political prerogative in the embassies (Kelso via Wash Post)

Monday, October 26th, 2009

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[Editor's note: I created this bivariate Dorling cartogram for Al's column on Friday. The bubbles are grouped by geographic region show number of total ambassadors and the subset (in red) who have been political appointees the last 49 years. The subset is aligned bottom middle instead of sharing the same center point as the total bubble. If you haven't seen our Head Count interactive database tracking all Obama's federal appointments, check it out!]

Republished from The Washington Post. Reported by Al Kamen.

Just after the election in November, we wrote that an Obama administration was likely to eschew “the traditional sale of most ambassadorships, so aptly carried on during the Bush administration.” The chatter was that the new team would pick political types, but with some foreign policy cred — as the Clinton administration tended to do — and maybe reduce the percentage of politicals in favor of more career Foreign Service officers.

Yeah, well, we must have been eschewing something. The fat-cat contributors naturally got the plum postings, as usual.

But judging from data compiled by the American Foreign Service Association, the career employees union, it appears that Obama is on track to reduce, at least marginally, the percentage of jobs going to contributors and cronies. While there are still a lot of vacancies, AFSA officials project that Obama is likely to end the year appointing fewer political folks than either Bush or Clinton to the 181 ambassadorial postings — but still too many, as far as the career diplomats are concerned.

About 30.1 percent of Bush’s ambassadors during his eight years were political folks, AFSA found. Clinton’s average, 33 percent politicals, was higher, but Clinton’s folks were a mix of non-career people who actually knew a lot about the countries or regions to which they were named and pure cash types — our favorite was hotelier Larry Lawrence for Switzerland, the guy whose body was exhumed from Arlingon National Ceremony when it turned out he lied about being in the Merchant Marine.

If Obama’s first-year total ends up slightly lower than Bush’s, then Obama’s eventual four-year — or eight-year — percentages will probably be clearly lower than his immediate predecessors’, we’re told, because the first round of appointments tends to skew more to paying off politicals than do the later rounds.

Of course, the politically connected still get the finer spots in the Caribbean and Western Europe. As the accompanying chart shows, the career diplomats head to somewhat less delightful (even nasty) postings in Central Asia (100 percent career since 1960), the Middle East, Africa and South America.

Since 1960, no Foreign Service officer has ever run the embassy in Dublin and only one, Ray Seitz, has gone to the Court of St. James’s in London. On the other hand, no political appointee has ever gone to Chad and only one has gone to Bulgaria.

See AFSA’s full data at http://www.afsa.org/ambassadors.cfm.

SOURCE: American Foreign Service Association, data 1960 through today. | Nathaniel Vaughn Kelso and Karen Yourish/The Washington Post – October 23, 2009

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