Obama Job Seeker Vetting Process
John McCain has caught quite a bit of flak for his rather cursory vetting process for his vice presidential selection. Barack Obama is going to the other extreme, requiring applicants for even low level appointments in his administration to fill out a seven page, 63 question document covering every conceivable base.
The questionnaire includes 63 requests for personal and professional records, some covering applicants’ spouses and grown children as well, that are forcing job-seekers to rummage from basements to attics, in shoe boxes, diaries and computer archives to document both their achievements and missteps.
Only the smallest details are excluded; traffic tickets carrying fines of less than $50 need not be reported, the application says. Applicants are asked whether they or anyone in their family owns a gun. They must include any e-mail that might embarrass the president-elect, along with any blog posts and links to their Facebook pages.
The first question asks applicants not just for a résumé, but for every résumé and biographical statement issued by them or others for the past 10 years — a likely safeguard against résumé falsehoods, one Clinton administration veteran said.
Most information must cover at least the past decade, including the names of anyone applicants lived with; a chronological list of activities for which applicants were paid; real estate and loans over $10,000, and their terms, for applicants and spouses; net worth statements submitted for loans, and organization memberships — in particular, memberships in groups that have discriminated on the basis of race, sex, disability, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
There are no time limits for some information, including liens, tax audits, lawsuits, legal charges, bankruptcies or arrests. Applicants must report all businesses with which they and their spouses have been affiliated or in which they have had a financial stake of more than 5 percent. All gifts over $50 that they and their spouses have received from anyone other than close friends or relatives must be identified.
Just in case the previous 62 questions do not ferret out any potential controversy, the 63rd is all-encompassing: “Please provide any other information, including information about other members of your family, that could suggest a conflict of interest or be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family, or the president-elect.”
For those who clear all the hurdles, the reward could be the job they wanted. But first there will be more forms, for security and ethics clearances from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office of Government Ethics.
As much as I’d like to criticize Obama for this, it’s perfectly prudent in the current environment. Bill Clinton’s transition was famously bungled, including embarrassing revelations about his first two tries at appointing an Attorney General.
Aside from minimizing potential embarrassments, I suspect this arduous application process will have the virtue of cutting the number of applicants who the transition staff will need to screen by two-thirds. Unless you’ve got an excellent shot at an appointment, this is an awful lot of work to go through.
At some point, this sort of scrutiny will make it impossible to find good people to take these jobs. As it is, though, tens of thousands of people will send in all this information and be happy to get one of the gigs in the Plum Book.
UPDATE: As an aside, the very notion of “applicants” for these jobs somewhat bemuses me. I’ve always rather envisioned presidents and their staffs filling the top positions from people that they knew and it sort of filtering down from there. One wonders what percentage of the appointments will come from people sending in resumes vice the more traditional “who you know” process.