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.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, US Politics, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. rodney dill says:

    a veritable ACORNucopia of applicants

  2. odograph says:

    Someone said Obama had a “deep bench” to choose from. 10 years of bright people and Nobel Laureates who have been out of power and waiting their turn.

    Some even moderates 😉

  3. fester says:

    As to your second to last paragraph, I would hazard a little bit of A (the connection gets your resume on top of the pile with a star and a Post-It note attached to it) and a bit of B as there are more people with decent connections and a good recommendation than there are positions.

  4. Barry says:

    James, a good post. I’d only add that this might be a warning – don’t even think of applying unless your record can stand a thorough GOP oppo research, and a thorough journalistic study.

  5. PJens says:

    A question about gun ownership? What is that all about? I would hope that gun ownership would not be a qualifier or dis-qualifier for a job.

  6. Triumph says:

    As much as I’d like to criticize Obama for this, it’s perfectly prudent in the current environment.

    Give me a break. These questions show what Obama is up to. This nanny-statism is nothing more than a prelude to what Republican Congressman Broun warned us about: Obama’s plan to establish a Marxist dictatorship.

  7. DC Loser says:

    This isn’t much more information thatn what’s demanded for anyone seeking a top secreat clearance.

  8. James Joyner says:

    This isn’t much more information thatn what’s demanded for anyone seeking a top secreat clearance.

    Well, every email and blog post and Facebook entry is going a bit far.

    The other difference, though,is that one usually at least has an offer in hand when starting the clearance process. Doing this just to put one’s resume into the pile is a bit much. Certainly, I’d never bother applying under these circumstances.

  9. DC Loser says:

    James – What this tells us is that Obama understands the scrutiny his administration will be under and that the people they pick to work for them will be similarly scritinized. They remember Nannygate and Illegal Alien Domestic Help-gate. They are under no illusion Obama will get a free pass if it’s later discovered one of his staff or appointees had a degree from Mail Order U. This just shows the amount of attention to detail and organizational discipline of the Obama team. Of course, I could be all wrong and they end up just like the previous administration.

  10. James says:

    This is no big deal. The SF-171 (federal application for employment) and the SF-85 and SF-85P (supplemental questionaires for positions of public trust) are very standard and long-standing forms. These are filled out and submitted long before any vetting process for a security clearance. The email and facebook questions are probably new, but I don’t really see what the big deal is. Any applicant for a fed position, either career or from the Plum Book, should expect to fill this stuff out, under any administration. Unless of course you were a bushie in the past 8 years, then all you’d need is a receipt for your campaign contribution. We all know how that turned out, don’t we, Brownie?

    Browse through all these forms here
    Electronic Forms: Standard Forms

    I fail to see the concern, or the unusual nature of this. Mountain out of an anthill.

  11. Steve Verdon says:

    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.

    But traffic tickets? WTF? In California I don’t think there is a traffic ticket for less that $50. Sure maybe if you had lots of tickets, or unpaid tickets, but tickets you paid, and/or went to traffic school for? Really?

  12. James M. says:

    I find some irony in this request of in-depth information. Obama was asked for proof of birth refused,even went to court to stop it and when asked for his school transcripts he said it wasn’t anyone’s business. So is this a case of do as I say do and not as I do?

  13. davod says:

    Would Obama pass scrutiny?

  14. DC Loser says:

    The other difference, though,is that one usually at least has an offer in hand when starting the clearance process. Doing this just to put one’s resume into the pile is a bit much. Certainly, I’d never bother applying under these circumstances.

    I guess you’ve never filled out an application for the CIA, especially their DO. That one was at least 10 pages with very detailed information required. And that was before they would even talk to you.