Whenever there is a presidential election, especially when there is a party change, government jobs see quite a few openings in the area of political appointments.
What might surprise veterans is that these appointments, known as Schedule C positions, are not strictly for senior positions or people connected to the president. In fact, there is a website set up for applicants to apply for Schedule C positions.
Does it help to be connected or involved in the campaign? Of course, networking is always a plus, but there are other ways to go about it as well.
Types of Schedule C Positions
The best way to find these positions is probably to look up the book, "United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions," which is published shortly after each presidential election. The book contains a list of more than 9,000 civil service leadership and support positions that might qualify.
Many of these political appointments require White House Office of Presidential Personnel approval, but are appointed through government agencies. Others require Senate confirmation, but those are the high-ranking positions that you are likely not going for, as they are made exclusively by the White House.
Where to Apply
The website to apply for political appointee positions is at Apply.WhiteHouse.Gov. Remember that you can apply based on your qualifications alone, so don't be scared off by your preconceived notion of political appointees.
That said, the positions are extremely competitive, so you'd be smart to do everything you can to make yourself shine.
How to Position Yourself for Such a Position
While you were in the military, you were likely not involved in politics (for many reasons), but veterans who have been out for a longer period of time might have become very involved. Even while you are still on active duty, you can start planning how to get involved.
Some ways to position yourself for these jobs are to network as much as you can, volunteer for campaigns or transition teams, and remember to keep in touch with as many professional contacts as you can.
If you're wealthy, donations can be another way to be noticed.
Whether any of these apply to you, experience and expertise should always be relevant and promoted.
An Interview with Veteran Turned Political Appointee, Tom Baltazar
Tom Baltazar was kind enough to share advice and lessons learned from his experience going from the military to becoming a political appointee.
Baltazar left the U.S. Army as a colonel, after 26 years of service. He took an appointment about two weeks after retiring in October 2005. In the Army, he worked as a combat engineer, deep sea/hard hat, master parachutist and combat diver, as well as in civil affairs and psychological operations.
He now works in U.S. government contracting.
As you can see by his answers, networking and being ready to jump on an opportunity can both be determining factors in these types of situations -- but don't forget that it's not the only way to get the job.
Q: How did you find yourself transitioning from the military to working as a political appointee?
A: During my military career, I had developed a friendship with an Army Reserve Civil Affairs officer, Michael Hess, who had recently been confirmed as the assistant administrator [assistant secretary level that requires Senate confirmation] for the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance.
He came to my retirement ceremony and told me that the USAID administrator, Andrew Natsios, had come to the conclusion that, after almost seven years into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at less-than-optimal effectiveness, USAID needed to formalize their relationship with DoD. Natsios, by the way, had also been an Army Reserve civil affairs officer and that's how he knew Hess.
Hess asked if I would be interested in interviewing for the job of standing up an Office of Military Affairs in USAID, and I said yes. He arranged for a meeting with Natsios the following week. The meeting was attended by Natsios, Hess, myself and the White House liaison (I forget his name but every senior appointee has one assigned to them, kind of like a political commissar).
At the end of the meeting, Natsios told me that the quickest way to get me on board was by political appointment and asked if I was OK with that. Here's where the White House guy asked me if I'd ever been or voted Democrat. I told Natsios I was OK with being a political appointee, and he told me he would send my information to the White House personnel to be vetted. About a week later, I was informed that I had the job and to report to work.
Q: Is there any competition for positions like the one you took?
A: There was no competition for this particular position. White House personnel does all the vetting and makes recommendations to fill various positions (look at the Plum Book for the list of all political positions). A lot of these positions are given to people or their friends/relatives who have either contributed money or time or both to the campaign.
Q: Is there anything about these positions that requires special qualifications? Would a day in the life of a political appointee be any different than that of a GS employee?
A: Not necessarily. A lot of these Plum Book positions are lower-level ones and, for those, there is little to no difference, other than you don't have the same benefits as a GS employee. You are also expected to attend all the political rallies.
Q: Transitioning out of the government, did being a political appointee help with your career change and future career path?
A: Not really, as I transitioned away from the U.S. government. Additionally, I did not take advantage of the contacts/network of other appointees to parlay my position into a follow-on job. That certainly is something that others took advantage of. Another "game" played is to turn the political appointment into a permanent GS position. There are specific laws prohibiting that, but there are ways around those laws.
Q: Do you have one last bit of advice for veterans in the civilian job search?
A: My experience both in and out of government is that it's all about your network. Very few people secure employment by applying for a job. Having an insider pulling for you is the best way to get a job. That said, my advice would be to use your network and never stop building it. This is, by definition, a two-way street. When people reach out to you for help, make an effort to fulfill that request -- it will always pay you back with interest!
Start working the angles now, and pay close attention to the next election results. The next election could determine your future career.