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Presidential Environmental Appointees in Comparative Perspective


Matthew R. Auer is director of undergraduate programs and professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. He is also editor in chief of the journal Policy Sciences and a senior policy adviser to the U.S. Forest Service. He has published widely in the public and environmental policy fields, and his opinions have been published in the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, among other news outlets.


The pathologies of the presidential appointment process are well documented and include appointees’ frequent lack of federal government work experience and their short appointment tenures. Less well understood are whether and to what extent these problems affect different subsets of high-level appointees, such as administrators in the environmental bureaucracy. Top-tier environmental appointees tend to stay longer in their appointed positions than do presidential appointees generally, and more than 40 percent have prior federal government management experience. These and other data suggest that key problems ascribed to the presidential appointment process are less salient in the case of high-level environmental appointees. Appointees in Republican and Democratic administrations have comparable levels of academic training and federal government experience. These similarities notwithstanding, White House expectations for appointees’ political loyalty varies more from administration to administration. The Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush (first term) administrations maintained the highest demands for political loyalty, with consequences for the policy–administration dichotomy in environmental agencies.