The next president will get to hire 8,045 new people to run the federal government. Who they hire, and how they manage them, should be a key factor in deciding which candidate will truly change Washington.
These positions are, listed in the "Plum Book" published after each presidential election, include the cabinet and agency heads, their teams, White House staff, ambassadors, and term appointments for federal regulatory boards.
In 1980, I served as director of personnel for the Reagan-Bush Campaign. I helped plan and administer the presidential transition, ultimately heading clearances for presidential personnel in the Reagan White House. This was a unique opportunity to participate in every phase of how a campaign becomes an administration.
Reagan was the first to lead the modern conservative movement into power. It was not an easy process. Remnants of the defeated Republican campaigns had become part of the Reagan-Bush team for the general election. This meant Reagan loyalists had to work with Bush, Connolly and Dole staffers.
The struggle for power began on day one. Although the original Reagan team prevailed, Ford and Rockefeller alumni (turned Bush loyalists) had also positioned themselves to get in on the action.
After the Reagan landslide came an epic behind-the-scenes battle for the soul of the Reagan administration. Bush loyalists, led by James Baker, aligned themselves with the presidential personnel team headed by Penn James. James had run Nixon's transition and was assailed by conservatives in 1969 for shutting out ideological loyalists in favor of technocrats.
This battle was renewed as James and his team, which included Democrats and nonpolitical corporate headhunters, declared that experience trumped ideology. Hundreds of Ford alumni poured into the transition and dominated appointment short lists. Reagan loyalists derisively labeled them "retreads."
It took the entry of Reagan's Kitchen Cabinet, aligned with Reagan's regional political directors and Washington-based conservatives, to turn the tide. In early December 1980, conservative icon Stan Evans convened the coalition under the code name "Inchon," named for the famous battle of the Korean War in which the allies launched a game-changing invasion behind enemy lines. The combined knowledge and access of the thirty core Inchon members toppled James' team and opened the door for real Reaganites to staff the Reagan administration.
Who among the Republican presidential contenders has similar stalwarts? In 2012, I participated in the early transition planning for Romney. His team was awash in Bush alumni. Washington "retreads" have the connections, and the credentials, to insinuate themselves into new power circles. They have the presence to intimidate and dazzle weary campaign staffers with a cacophony of "if you knew what we knew" to dilute ideological zeal with a status quo mindset.
Personnel is policy. Those who truly want Washington to change must look beyond the rhetoric to the Rolodex. Which Republican candidate will block retreads? Which Republican candidate will refuse calls from Congress to find jobs for defeated candidates? Which Republican candidate will ignore calls from the Republican National Committee to reward donors and lobbyists? Which Republican candidate will place a change agenda ahead of demographic tokens who generate superficial accolades among mainstream media? Which Republican candidate will avoid "false affinities" (ties to home state, college alumni, clubs) to make sure his or her team is up to the task?
Except for the White House and agency support staffers (hired under "Schedule C" authority), the Plum Book positions directly supervise career federal employees. This means the president's team can hire, fire, transfer, promote, reward and punish approximately 50,000+ within the career service. The Reagan Transition developed initial lists of these careerists known as "Super Plum."
Which presidential contender has people who understand how to wield this power and direct real change? The Reagan transition included a team whose sole mission was to identify the critical power paths within each department and major agency. What twelve positions actually ran the Department of Commerce? This team identified them and made recommendations for who would be the first wave of occupation.
Another team ran the "welcome wagon". This team met with every secretary-designate, agency head-designate and their inner circles to walk them through "Super Plum." They helped develop strategies for establishing full control of their organization and prioritized what Carter regulations and initiatives could immediately be stopped or reversed.
The Reagan Revolution happened by design, not by chance. It happened because legions of loyalists came to Washington to make a difference. The question of who among the current Republican presidential field can deliver real results beyond Election Day rests upon the willingness of each candidate to plan ahead for the critical task of transition.
Scot Faulkner was Director of Personnel for Reagan-Bush 1980, served in the Office of the President-Elect, and on the White House Staff. Later, he served as the first Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.