The 40 Toughest Management Jobs in Government

What do the deputy secretary of the Energy Department, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service all have in common? They are among the 40 toughest management jobs in the federal government, according to a bipartisan nonprofit group of former government officials.

There are nearly 4,000 political appointments that the next administration has to fill – an enormous task that has to be accomplished on a tight time frame. Anyone who has ever worked in government knows that the hurly-burly of the campaign trail is very different from the complicated, daily operations of managing a federal agency. The National Academy of Public Administration, through its Transition 2016 initiative, is releasing its 2017 Prune Book on Wednesday, which describes these high-profile, challenging management jobs and the importance of staffing them with the most capable people.

“Turning campaign promises into working policies requires more than just political bravado,” said the Political Appointee Project website, which lists the 40 toughest management jobs in government. “It takes great management skills.”

The 40 jobs identified by NAPA and its Transition 2016 team fall into five categories: governmentwide managers; deputy secretaries; and leaders in the areas of natural resources, information and infrastructure; national and homeland security; and health, education and income security programs.

“This book is the culmination of decades of experience and expertise from our Transition 2016 Steering Committee and Academy Fellowship, consisting of current and former political appointees from across government,” said Transition 2016 Co-Chairs David Chu and Edward DeSeve, who both had long careers as political appointees in Republican and Democratic administrations. “We are proud to offer this guidebook as a resource to the incoming administration from those who have previously served and know what it takes to succeed as a government manager.”

The hardest jobs listed in the governmentwide managers category are: Office of Management and Budget director; Office of Personnel Management director; OMB deputy director for management; General Services Administration administrator; and Treasury Department deputy secretary. Other positions NAPA identified as being particularly complex included:

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator
  • Federal Aviation Administration administrator
  • Census Bureau director
  • CIA director
  • FBI director
  • National Nuclear Security Administration administrator
  • Veterans Health Administration health undersecretary
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director
  • Social Security Administration commissioner

“These jobs are characterized by operational complexity,” the Political Appointee Project website stated. “The performance of these jobs will have a direct impact on the American citizenry, including direct delivery of services and accomplishments of the president's agenda. All of these positions will have to overcome enormous management challenges to accomplish their goals.”

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