Comparing Political Appointees at Peace Corps with Other Agencies


2 minute read

[Update: while at Peace Corps, I was asked to analyze the data behind this myth at Peace Corps. Now that I’m out, I thought that others might be interested in the findings publicly.]

There is a common misconception that Peace Corps is a dumping ground for political appointees. I looked through the statistics and found that Peace Corps has neither significantly greater nor fewer appointees than similar agencies.

With a smaller agency like the Peace Corps, it often comes up in conversation that we ‘seem to have a lot of presidential appointees (PAs) compared to other agencies.’ This is a great question – and should have a pretty easy answer, right?

This isn’t actually as easy to ascertain you might think. For starters, the different ‘levels’ of appointee-ship vary widely. The spectrum of appointees (and there are many, can be found in this memo from the Government Accountability Office

There is a book – known as the GAO ‘Plum Book’ that has a lot of information about the appointees and their posts within government. Other sources that help flesh out government employee numbers include portals like the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Diving into the number

To start, as of 2012, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported a total of 3,799 politically appointed federal positions. This includes 321 PA positions, 1,217 PAS (Presidential Appointee with Senate confirmation) positions, 789 SES (Senior Executive Service) positions, and 1,392 Schedule C positions (confidential assistants and support).

Appointess as a percentage of non-appointees

Peace Corps’ percentage of Presidential Appointees (28 Appointees for 827 FTEs, est. 2012, or 3.3%) places us 24th out of 76 federal government agencies with more than 100 FTEs.

To get the data to line up, I folded Inspectors General (IGs) into their respective agencies, even though they are technically considered as a ‘separate’ agency.

For summary stats, I just lumped all the appointees together (Senate-Confirmed, Non-Confirmed, SES, Schedule C, and Excepted Service)

Both as a percentage and as far as raw numbers go, Peace Corps is fairly middle of the pack.

Federal agency number of employees and number of appointees

Does it make it a better place to work?

Out of sheer curiosity, I cross-referenced this dataset with the ‘Best Places to Work’ index from the federal-wide Employee Viewpoint Survey.

Stopping myself short of doing a full-scale analysis, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that there seems to be no correlation between an agency’s score on the ‘Best Place’ index and their percentage of Appointed employees (even when controlling for the size of the agency and raw number of appointees.)

Appointee draw

So there we have it - in this case anyway, it seems we are fairly middle of the road as an agency (oh all of this stuff was the latest I could get, mostly 2012 with some 2013 stuff, source depending).

Oh by the way, even if you add a very rough estimate of Volunteers (+8000) to our numbers, we only drop to 59 of 76). So without Volunteers we are closest to the FCC, with them we are closest to NASA in terms of our percentage of appointees to all other staff.

Obviously this was just for fun, so these numbers could be a bit off. Turns out that OMB, OPM, the White House, GAO, GPO, and individual agencies don’t code all of their data and even agency names the same way.

Go figure.