Federal Political Appointments under the Radar

The Trump administration, with all its distractions and dysfunction, has been slow to fill the 3,000+ political appointments available to it. These appointments are not subject to the temporary federal hiring freeze that President Trump imposed in his first week. Unbeknownst to almost all legal job seekers, the vast majority of these slots are not reserved for agency heads and their deputies, assistant secretaries, etc. Instead, they are filled by much lower-ranking individuals, many of whom are recent graduates from college and law school. In fact, a disproportionate number of these jobs are filled by attorneys.

“Schedule C:”Where Most Political Appointments Lurk

Employees in the U.S. government’s “Excepted Service” (i.e., positions that fall outside of the regular, competitive civil service, including all attorney positions) who are subject to change at the discretion of a new Administration are commonly referred to as “Schedule C” employees. Schedule C positions are excepted from the competitive service because they have policy-determining responsibilities or require the incumbent to serve in a confidential relationship to a key official. Most Schedule C positions are at the GS-15 level and below, where the vast majority of mid- and lower-level political appointments are found.

Appointments to Schedule C positions require advance approval from the White House Office of Presidential Personnel and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and may be made without competition. Neither the White House nor OPM reviews the qualifications of a Schedule C appointee — final authority on this matter rests with the appointing official, usually the agency head or deputy.

Establishing Schedule C Positions

OPM authorizes the establishment of each Schedule C position and revokes the authority when the position is vacated. A list of Schedule C positions is published annually in the Federal Register, under Part 213 of OPM’s regulations. The President can also authorize individual exemptions under Schedule C.

Schedule C appointments may be heavily influenced by external political considerations and personalities, e.g., the President, other administration political officials, Members of Congress, state legislators and administrators who are close to their Washington counterparts, friends of “political” people, campaign contributors, etc.

A new appointment to a Schedule C position may be made only for one year after the agency head is appointed. This means, in effect, that no new Schedule C positions may be established after an agency head has been in office for more than one year. That means that interested candidates should get their campaigns for Schedule C appointments moving right away. If you have any direct or indirect connection with any of the people listed in the preceding paragraph, now is the time to let them know of your interest.

Schedule C Compensation

For pay purposes, Schedule C is part of the federal government’s “General Schedule,” which is the pay and grade system under which the vast majority of white collar professionals are classified. Most Schedule C positions are in grades GS-11 through GS-15. A handful are at a higher level, roughly equivalent to the Senior Executive Service pay scale.

General Schedule (including Schedule C) employees receive a “locality pay” adjustment in addition to their basic general schedule pay. Locality pay adjustments vary from year-to-year and customarily amount to between 14 and 30 percent of base pay. For detailed compensation information, refer to the OPM salary charts.

Representative Schedule C Legal and JD Advantage Job Titles

  • Confidential Policy Advisor to the Federal Co-Chairman (Appalachian Regional Commission)
  • Special Assistant to the Commissioner (Commission on Civil Rights)
  • Special Assistant (Legal) to the Commissioner (Consumer Product Safety Commission)
  • Confidential Assistant to the Under Secretary for Export Administration (Department of Commerce)
  • Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff (Department of Education)
  • Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs (Department of Energy)
  • Policy Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy (Department of Energy)
  • Executive Assistant to the Deputy Secretary (Department of Homeland Security)
  • Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (Department of Housing and Urban Development)
  • Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division (Department of Justice)
  • Staff Assistant to the Wage and Hour Administrator (Department of Labor)

Job Security?

Schedule C appointees serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority and may be removed at any time. Schedule C positions are automatically canceled when the incumbent leaves.

Agencies may terminate Schedule C appointees at any time if the confidential or policy-determining relationship between the incumbent and his/her superior ends. Schedule C appointees are not covered by statutory removal procedures and generally have no rights to appeal removal actions to the Merit Systems Protection Board. This is true regardless of veterans’ preference or length of service in the position.