Aside from Cabinet secretaries and Supreme Court justices, whose nominations require the approval of the Senate, the President of the United States currently has the authority to unilaterally appoint over 300 people to high-level positions within the federal government.
According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), most of these positions, known as "Presidential Appointments," pay from $99,628 to about $180,000 per year and include federal employee benefits.
How Many and Where?
In its report to Congress, the GAO identified 321 presidentially appointed (PA) positions governmentwide that do not require Senate confirmation.
PA positions fall into one of three categories: 67% are positions on federal commissions, councils, committees, boards or foundations; 29% are positions within the Executive Office of the President; and the remaining 4% are in other federal agencies or departments.
Of those 321 PA positions, 163 were created on August 10, 2012, when President Obama signed the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act. The act converted 163 presidential nominations, all of which had previously required Senate hearings and approval, to positions appointed directly by the president. According to the GAO, most PA positions were created between 1970 and 2000.
What the PAs Do
PAs appointed to commissions, councils, committees, boards, or foundations and typically serve as advisors. However, they may be assigned some degree of responsibility for evaluating or even creating the organization's policy and direction.
PAs in the Executive Office of the President (EOP) often directly support the president by providing advisory and administrative assistance. They might be expected to advise the president on a wide range of areas, including foreign relations, US and international economic policy, and homeland security. In addition PAs in the EOP assist in maintaining relationships between the White House and Congress, the executive branch agencies, and state and local governments.
Responsibilities of PAs serving directly in federal agencies and departments are the most diverse. They may be assigned to assist presidential appointees in positions that require Senate approval. Others may serve as US representatives to United Nations organizations. Still others may be assigned leadership roles at highly visible non-agency organizations, such as the National Cancer Institute or the National Institutes of Health.
In most cases, there are no specific qualifications for PA positions, and since the appointments do not come under Senate scrutiny, they are subject to being used as political favors. However, PA positions on commissions, councils, committees, boards or foundations often do have legally-required qualification.
How Much the PAs Make
First of all, most PAs are not paid a salary. According to the GAO, 99% of all PAs - those serving as advisors to commissions, councils, committees, boards or foundations - are either not compensated at all or are paid a daily rate of $634 or less only while actually serving.
The remaining 1% of PAs - those in the EOP and those serving in federal agencies and departments - are paid salaries ranging from $99,628 to $180,000. However, there are notable exceptions. For example, the Director of the National Cancer Institute is a PA position within the Department of Health and Human Services that receives a salary of $350,000, according to the GAO.
PA positions in the EOP and the federal departments and agencies are mostly full time jobs and have no term limits. PAs appointed to commissions, councils, committees, boards or foundations serve intermittently during terms typically lasting from 3 to 6 years.
Other Types of Politically Appointed Positions
Overall, there are four main categories of politically appointed positions: Presidential Appointments with Senate confirmation (PAS), Presidential Appointments without Senate confirmation (PSs), political appointees to the Senior Executive Service (SES), and Schedule C political appointees.
Persons in SES and Schedule C positions are typically appointed by PAS and PA appointees, rather than the president. However, all appointments to SES and Schedule C posts must be reviewd and approved by the Executive Office of the President.
As of 2012, the GAO reported a total of 3,799 politically appointed federal positions, including 321 PA positions, 1,217 PAS positions, 789 SES positions, and 1,392 Schedule C positions.
Presidential Appointments with Senate confirmation (PAS) positions are the top of the federal personnel "food chain," and include positions such as cabinet agency secretaries and top administrators and deputy administrators of the non-cabinet agencies. Holders of PAS positions have direct responsibility for implementing the president's goals and policies. In fiscal year 2013, salaries for PAS positions ranged from $145,700 to $199,700, the current salary of cabinet secretaries.
PA's, while significantly responsible for implementing White House goals and policies, often serve under PAS appointees.
Senior Executive Service (SES) appointees serve in positions just below PAS appointees. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, they "are the major link between these appointees and the rest of the Federal work force. They operate and oversee nearly every government activity in approximately 75 Federal agencies." In fiscal year 2013, salaries for Senior Executive Service appointees ranged from $119,554 to $179,700.
Schedule C appointments are typically non-career assignments to positions ranging from regional directors of agencies to staff assistants and speech writers. Schedule C appointees are typically changed with each new incoming presidential administration, making them the category of presidential appointments most likely to be handed out as "political favors." Salaries for Schedule C appointees range from $67,114 to $155,500.
SES and Schedule C appointees typically serve in subordinate roles to PAS and PA appointees.
"At the Pleasure of the President"
By their very nature, presidential political appointments are not for people looking for a stable, long-term career. In order to be appointed in the first place, political appointees are expected to support the policies and goals of the president's administration. As the GAO puts it, "Individuals serving in political appointments generally serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority and do not have the job protections afforded to those in career-type appointments."