So You Think You’re Getting a Job in the Trump Administration?
The incoming administration of Donald Trump must eventually appoint 4,115 positions in the federal government. He and his transition team should make selections on the 100 or so most critical and high-level appointments by Inauguration Day. These positions include the heads of important cabinet agencies and departments, as well as key members of the White House staff (such as the White House Chief of Staff, the White House Counsel, and the National Security Advisor). The Trump transition team has already publicly announced a number of key advisor and cabinet selections in the few weeks immediately following the election.
Perhaps you are interested in being appointed to a position within the incoming Trump administration. You may, however be worried about the potential for suffering embarrassment as a result of submitting to rigorous, and possibly public, vetting inherent in the process.
Layers Before Cake
Potential appointees must pass through as many as three layers of vetting before securing a position with new administration:
Political vetting: The transition team first assesses potential appointees for their ability to carry out the political agenda of the incoming administration and their relevance to the function for which they would be appointed.
President-elect Trump’s personal attitude toward identifying talent and hiring is worth noting here. Numerous statements by Trump hires over the decades have indicated that he prides himself on making gut decisions, offering positions of tremendous responsibility to candidates after only a few minutes of conversation. Various spokespersons for his campaign and transition team have also stated quite explicitly that perceived personal loyalty to Trump is a primary consideration in his hiring calculus.
Security clearance investigation: Almost all positions will require that the individual be able to maintain some level of security clearance. The majority of security clearance background investigations will be conducted by the FBI, although the investigations for some positions may be executed by the relevant agency if it has its own investigative capabilities—for example, the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security will handle the clearance investigations for the Secretary of State, Undersecretaries of State, and every ambassador.
The scope of such investigations depends on the level of clearance necessary. As the highest level classification authority in the US government, the president can ultimately decide to disregard any derogatory information uncovered in a background investigation and proceed with nominating an appointee. Overriding the results of an investigation is easier for those positions that do not require confirmation by the Senate. Potential appointees will also have to fill out invasive financial disclosure paperwork during this part of the process.
Senate confirmation: This is the final layer for at least 1,392 of the presidentially appointed positions, which include cabinet-level positions, other agency and department heads, Supreme Court justices, US attorneys, federal judges, and ambassadors. Each of the president’s recommended appointees is assigned to a committee that has jurisdiction over the agency or function of relevance to the appointee, which will conduct an initial round of hearings before sending the nominee to the Senate floor for final confirmation.
Law firms and accounting firms typically assist the administration with “pre-vetting” potential appointees—doing a round of background investigations before their consideration by the president or president-elect for appointment to a position. The scope of such pre-vetting will depend on the particular capabilities of the firms tasked with the chore, as well as the specific requirements of the incoming administration. Such pre-vetting processes will attempt to identify any issues in the public record—such as tax payment history or lawsuits—that could surface during the security clearance investigation or Senate hearings.
There have been examples of this in each of the last several administrations. In one instance, Zoe Baird, who was nominated by President Bill Clinton to be the first female Attorney General, had to withdraw when the vetting process uncovered that she had hired illegal immigrants to help with childcare.
Advice for the Hopeful but Nervous
A hopeful appointee could preempt any potential public embarrassment resulting from the later formal checks—and assuage some anxiety—by seeking out the services of a private investigative group to perform a discrete and personalized background check. Doing this allows for the hopeful appointee to take control of their own reputation, either providing them the option to forego the embarrassment of a failed appointment bid outright or otherwise empowering them to prepare themselves for intrusive government investigations.
It also augments whatever work is done by private law and accounting firms to ensure legal and tax compliance. Finding the problematic information is important, but putting it into the context of how the media may write about it or how Senate staffers might prepare their bosses for the confirmation hearing is critical to understanding its value. Using those findings to conduct mock hearings—colloquially known as “murder boards”—will help the aspiring nominee know both how the questions may be framed and how to answer them with the right context.
For further information about LEVICK Business Intelligence’s vetting and due diligence capabilities—and for a full list of our service offerings—please visit us online at http://levick.com/practices/business-intelligence or contact us directly at [email protected].