Renewing the Faith

Political appointees and their service to the nation.

Whenever a new political appointee, with right hand raised, promises to protect and defend the Constitution, it's a step forward for our democratic system, or so I would argue.

Even if one disapproves of the appointee's past affiliations or record, the ceremony still stands as another milestone and our faith is renewed that good people will risk their reputations, and the calumny that sometimes descends upon them before and after confirmation, to serve the nation for modest salaries.

We've recently witnessed two important confirmations and swearing in ceremonies-those of Samuel A. Alito Jr. as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, and of Ben S. Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Alito endured months of scrutiny from the opposition and attacks on his record going back to his days as a Princeton undergraduate. Even his wife's clothing was the subject of derisive coverage in the press.

Bernanke was confirmed, after a routine, one-day hearing, for a position that many consider more important than that of Supreme Court justice: a four-year term as the nation's monetary policy leader and a 14-year term on the Fed's board of governors.

Alito is in the minority-but one that's been growing for a generation or more-of nominees swept up in partisan combat.

Another such case is that of my friend C. Boyden Gray, who was nominated in July 2005 to be the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. Gray served for 12 years as counsel to first vice president and then President George H. W. Bush. He was the Reagan administration's leading deregulation strategist, helped draft important laws on air quality and on disability rights and fought to get Clarence Thomas confirmed to the Supreme Court, among other accomplishments in government.

Gray has been active in GOP fund-raising and championed conservative causes, including confirmation of controversial Bush judicial nominees who were being blocked by Democrats in the Senate. Angry about the tactics he embraced in that fight, they put a hold on his confirmation, so he took a two-year recess appointment and was sworn in by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Jan. 20.

No such controversy attended confirmation of Lyons Gray, Boyden's cousin, as chief financial officer of the Environmental Protection Agency. He was sworn in by EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson on Jan. 23.

Lyons and his wife, Constance, have moved to Washington from North Carolina, where he spent 13 years as an elected member of the general assembly, because he welcomed another opportunity for public service.

The Gray cousins, nearing the end of successful careers in the public and private sectors, could have rested on their laurels. But the country is the better for their willingness to serve.

And that goes for Michael Chertoff as well. He might be struggling in his difficult job as secretary of the Homeland Security Department-as our cover story this month suggests. Still, when he answered the call to serve and took his latest oath of office, our democratic system showed its strength once more.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.