THE PLUM BOOK
FRANCIS X. OSCADAL
FOLLOWING EACH presidential election the transfer of power to a new administration begins. A major component in this exchange is the staffing of government offices by the incoming president. Since the days of Andrew Jackson these presidential appointments have served as a reward to loyal supporters and as a means of insuring that positions are filled by people who share common political views and will promote the president's programs.
The system of appointments and patronage that exists today evolved over time, eliminating or at least curbing many abuses while recognizing and retaining the practical benefits. A fairly recent example of the process is the publication every four years of a government document that has become indispensable to federal job seekers. It is formally entitled United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions but is more popularly known as the 'plum book.'1 The plum book lists a wide variety of jobs in the middle and top levels of government that fall outside the regular civil service, from cabinet secretaries to a secretary's chauffeur with thousands of deputies, directors, assistants, adjuncts, and commissioners in between. Entries may vary in completeness but generally include the title, incumbent, rank, salary, and tenure of each position.
Not all or even most positions listed in the book are filled after each election. Several categories exist that offer a president more or less latitude in making such appointments. Schedule C jobs, for example, are defined as positions 'of a confidential or policy determining character... and to which appointments may be made without examination....'2 This means they can be hired and fired at will. Many others are career appointments and are identified as such, or they are jobs that demand a degree of continuity to function properly. The plum book serves to identify jobs where a president and his staff may appoint as the opportunity and need require.
This list of possible presidential appointees originated with the Eisenhower administration of 1952. After twenty-two years out of office the Republicans were convinced that Democrats were entrenched throughout the government, and they requested a list of positions that President Eisenhower could fill. 3 The first list was relatively short but it was a beginning, and, as often happens with government projects, it has continued to grow. The plum book appeared next in 1960 and has appeared in all subsequent election years, published alternately by the House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service and the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. The edition prepared for the Kennedy administration had plum colored covers and began the trend toward more extensive listings of appointees and Schedule C, or patronage jobs.
The trend toward inclusiveness continued during the Carter and Reagan administrations. The passage of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 created the Senior Executive Service (SES), which serves as the federal government's top management corps of approximately 7000 positions. Up to ten percent of these jobs may be non-career,
political appointments. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, it was also during the Carter years that Schedule C appointments showed their largest increase to that point. At the end of Ronald Reagan's first term a decision was made to increase greatly the listing of SES positions, to the consternation of career officers who feared their jobs would be, or appear to be, up for grabs, and again the number of political appointees increased.
The latest edition of the plum book, published in 1988 contains roughly 8000 job titles, down from more than 10,000 in 1984. Of those the House civil service subcommittee counted approximately one-half as political appointees of one type or another. The next edition is scheduled for publication in 1992 to provide a snapshot of the Bush administration as it appears in that year.
1. Policy and Supporting Positions:United Stares Government. Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, House of Representatives, 100th Congress, 2d Session. Yq.P 84/10:P 75/988. (Washington:Government Printing Office, 1988
2. Ibid., p. v.
3.Judith Havemann, 'Pruned "Plum Book" to Hit Shelves,' Washington Post, 8 November 1988, A17.
Last Updated: 4/19/17