Senior executives give low marks to Obama appointees

Pete Souza/White House
A new survey shows strained relationships between senior career federal managers and executives and the political appointees they work with.

In the survey, respondents rated Obama appointees lower than those in previous administrations. Obama appointees earned a C average, or 2.0, compared with a 2.3 for those in the George W. Bush and Clinton administrations. More than 30 percent gave Obama appointees a D or an F for overall job performance, while only 20 percent awarded past appointees such low marks.

The study, conducted in April by Government Executive's research division, the Government Business Council, involved surveying 148 Senior Executive Service members and GS-15s about their attitudes toward current challenges and Obama administration initiatives.

The survey revealed skepticism about the ability of current political appointees to improve agency performance. One respondent said, "The role [of senior leadership] has increased, but the effectiveness, skill and knowledge has dramatically decreased."

Obama officials lack functional and agency-specific knowledge, according to survey respondents. Nearly 60 percent of respondents gave Obama appointees a grade of C or lower for their functional expertise, with less than 37 percent giving them A or B grades. Many believe appointees don't understand human resources and procurement rules, saying they presume the "institution is there as an obstruction" and attempt to "break organizations."

Appointees have "unbelievably poor communication with career employees," one respondent commented. Almost 40 percent of managers gave appointees Ds or Fs on collaboration and communication with their staffs. Some "have a divide-and-conquer strategy, and there are way too many industry fingers allowed in decision-making," a respondent noted. At another agency, a manager said the result has been "politicization of normal agency functions."

Further results of the survey will be featured in "The Chiefs," a June 15 special issue of Government Executive on challenges faced by government's chief officers.

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