Who Can George W. Bush Dismiss?

The head of the Forest Service, Mike Dombeck, appointed by President Clinton, just issued a directive limiting the cutting of old-growth trees in national forests. This is at odds with what the Bush administration would like to do with old-growth forests, but the new president can’t get rid of Dombeck for the next four months. Why? And who can Bush get rid of?

The new president can appoint people to about 5,500 federal jobs that automatically become open–those currently holding these positions have already gotten notices telling them to submit their letters of resignation. These positions include the approximately 1,000 people who require Senate confirmation, such as Cabinet secretaries, ambassadors, and U.S. attorneys. There are another 2,000 presidential appointees in the next layer of management down who do not require confirmation. And there are about 2,500 positions that come under the White House staff, everything from the press secretary to head of the White House fellows program. There are approximately 1.8 million permanent federal employees who keep their jobs no matter who wins the presidency. Almost all of them are part of the General Schedule (GS), which awards pay and responsibility on an ascending 15-point scale.

The Forest Service’s tree-loving Mike Dombeck gets to stay in his job until May because he is part of the senior executive service (SES), a group of managers with a level of responsibility and pay above that of the GS employees. There are about 6,000 people in the SES, almost all of them career federal employees (about 700 are presidential appointees). The rules governing career SES managers allow them to stay in their jobs for 120 days into a new administration. After that, Dombeck becomes “available for transfer.” Depending on how much Dombeck loves trees in the next four months, the Bush administration will then decide an appropriate place to transfer him. Explainer hears Fargo, N.D., is lovely in the winter.

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Explainer thanks reader Pat Corless for suggesting the question.