Career Public-Sector Employee Attitudes About Political Appointments:  A Study of the U.S. Department of State

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Virginia Tech


Scholars have long examined the inherent trade-offs between control and capability when presidents politicize the executive branch through their appointment powers, including through political appointments to federal agency leadership positions. Empirical research over the past few decades connects high ratios of appointees to career leaders with decreased agency performance and higher voluntary turnover at the career senior ranks. However, less attention has been dedicated to the effects of such appointments on the attitudes of the civil service workforce, factors which has been shown to influence organizational performance. Employing a study of the U.S. Department of State, I evaluate the relationship between degree of agency politicization and self-reported measures of engagement, motivation, and job satisfaction among civil servants. Analysis suggests that the ongoing reliance on outside political appointees in senior leadership by successive presidents impedes the State Department's efforts to build and sustain positive workforce attitudes. This study examines the effects of the institutionalized use of outside appointments on the broader federal workforce, presenting a new perspective for scholarly understanding of the dynamics at play when presidents politicize the agencies they are entrusted to lead.



executive branch, career civil service, politicization, engagement, job satisfaction, motivation, appointees