A New, Progressive Vision for Personnel

Newsletter 29: What the next president needs to be looking for (hint, debate moderators, hint!)

The discussion around the Democratic nomination battle this week has understandably been centered on the fiasco in Iowa, but with votes (mostly, kinda) tallied... it’s time to turn our attention back to substance before the next votes are cast. Voters still deserve to hear more about how each candidate would do the job of being president, and time is running increasingly short. 

2020 (and Potentially 2021)

Although it was largely eclipsed in the fracas, we did learn last week that Bernie Sanders’ team has been preparing potential executive orders that a President Sanders would sign on day one. Measures under consideration include allowing the importation of drugs from Canada, declaring climate change a national emergency, legalizing marijuana, and raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour for government contractors, among others. 

Sanders is not the only one to consider the extensive use of executive orders. Amy Klobuchar, for one, has released a long list of actions that she would take in her first 100 days in office, including many executive orders and other executive actions. And Warren has often centered executive branch administration in her plans. With more and more candidates stepping into the fray when it comes to executive power, it’s really time that debate moderators and the rest of the media started asking about it. 

However, it will surprise no one to know that we want more than just talk of executive orders or even specific actions. We also want to know who is going to be carrying them out. No president can accomplish all that they want alone but must lean on a wide network of personnel. The people that they pick have the ability to make or break their legacy. 

So how does the next president ensure that they pick good people? Our founder, Jeff Hauser, and David Segal, Executive Director of the Demand Progress Education Fund, have taken a crack at that question in their new article, “Personnel is Policy” in the journal Democracy. They propose a broad set of criteria by which to assess potential appointees. Ideal personnel will have the following positive attributes:

  1. A proven commitment to the public interest

  2. An ability to creatively apply the tools of government

  3. A reflectiveness of the country as a whole

  4. A willingness to engage affected communities and work with movements

Almost by definition, adherence to these positive criteria would sideline the more traditional candidates for positions in the executive branch.  However, Hauser and Segal make explicit what sort of attributes should not be welcome in a future administration:

  1. A willingness to represent interests at odds with the public good

  2. Compromising ties to industry

  3. Policy positions at odds with the public good

  4. A record of using public service for personal gain

  5. A strong likelihood they will seek to work in a regulated industry after a stint in government and, in so doing, tilt outcomes toward the industry and away from the preferences of democratically elected government.

We encourage you to read the whole piece and to consider what would be possible should a future administration take its suggestions seriously.  

Sadly, some candidates are sending decidedly worrisome signals that they would not. If Biden’s Super PAC donors are any guide (and we would argue rather forcefully that historically they have been), his administration is likely to be filled with former executives from private equity, hedge funds, and yes, even oil and gas. The volume of support that both Biden and Buttigieg are receiving from the country’s most notorious anti-union law firms also portends disappointing progress for labor rights in a Biden or Buttigieg administration. 

News that Buttigieg is returning a donation from yet another unsavory figure - this time a donor who previously led a major ICE contractor - should also raise alarm bells. As President, Buttigieg will be responsible for leading a team that vets thousands of personnel picks; his repeated failure to successfully vet donors as a candidate does not inspire confidence that he will excel at this essential responsibility. 

Congressional Oversight of the Executive Branch

The President has been acquitted after a Senate “trial,” but that should not mean that the work of oversight is finished. As John Podesta argued in the Washington Post yesterday, “The country needs the House’s oversight now more than ever.” We could not agree more! 

The House has, almost without exception, failed to take its oversight responsibilities seriously, leaving a veritable mountain of corruption untouched. It’s time they got to work on that backlog and that they began responding to the new issues emerging under their noses in real time. That should include EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson’s decision to go work as a lobbyist for a mining company, the abrupt firing of the Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Fiona Hill’s replacement, and much more that we’re undoubtedly missing. 

Want more?Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to in the last couple of weeks:

Personnel Is Policy

Attorneys From Union-Busting Law Firms Are Throwing Support Behind Joe Biden

Biden and Buttigieg Take Big Bucks From Union-Busting Lawyers

Who Exactly Are Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg's Bundlers?

Ecos del 'impeachment' en Iowa: cómo afecta a Biden lo que se dijo de él en el proceso contra Trump


And video and a transcript of the Capitol Forum event we helped plan should be available soon -- please contact us or Capitol Forum for more information!