Study Examines Diversity Trends in Past Presidential Appointments
Dr. Meghna Sabharwal
A new UT Dallas study found significant differences in the rate that minorities and women were appointed to top federal jobs under the Democratic and Republican presidents between 1993 and 2013.
Past research has shown that Democratic presidents appoint more minorities and women to the highest levels in the federal government than Republican presidents do. The new study, recently published in the journal Administration & Society, examined trends in appointments during the administrations of former President Bill Clinton and former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama’s first term.
Dr. Meghna Sabharwal, associate professor of public and nonprofit management in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences; Katerina Anestaki, a PhD candidate of public and nonprofit management and research assistant; and two co-authors examined federal workforce personnel data over the 20-year period included in the study. Among the key findings were:
- African-Americans made up a record 16 percent of Clinton’s presidential appointees. But that dropped to 4 percent of appointees under Bush. Obama increased the number to 11.6 percent during his first term.
- Hispanics reached a high of 7 percent of all appointees under Clinton before falling to 4 percent under Bush. The number rose to 6.6 percent during Obama’s first term.
- Obama more than tripled the percentage of Asians/Pacific Islanders appointed to top government posts. Asians/Pacific Islanders made up 2 percent of appointments in 1993 and jumped to 6.6 percent in 2013.
- About 45 percent of Clinton’s political appointees were women. That number dropped to 36 percent after Bush took office before returning to nearly 45 percent during Obama’s first term.
“The legacy of the three last administrations is both concerning and promising for the role that race and gender diversity holds in presidential agendas,” Sabharwal said. “Our findings show that female and minority political appointees were better represented during a Democratic rather than a Republican presidency.”
The results demonstrate the impact that a president can make in promoting minorities and women at the highest levels of the federal government, Sabharwal said. She noted that the number of African-American appointees was higher during Clinton’s presidency than in Obama’s first term.
“Interestingly, the study finds that President Obama has been very cautious bringing his own race into politics,” Sabharwal said. “He has demonstrated race-neutral politics.”
Presidential appointees are key to building a diverse federal government because they exercise high discretion over policymaking, she said.
“If we want the representative democracy that the government has always aimed for, it’s important to have competent people in leadership positions who reflect the general demographics of the population,” Sabharwal said.
A diverse bureaucracy is important for representing the needs and values of a diverse population, she said.
“Shared values between citizens and administrators lead the latter to make decisions on behalf of, and for, the interest of citizens,” Sabharwal said. “Ensuring greater workforce diversity has become a fundamental value for political actors and institutions.”
As the nation’s diversity increases, so do expectations for executive appointments that mirror the demographic makeup of society, Anestaki said.
“As a result of presidents’ appointment power, the degree that women and racial/ethnic minorities are represented in appointed positions is highly reflective of the presidential stand toward diversity,” Sabharwal said. “Ensuring more diversified executive appointments in respect to gender and race will signify considerable progress toward achieving social equity in the federal bureaucracy, and the value that presidents place on diversity and inclusion, while not compromising on merit.”
The researchers plan to expand the study to include data from Obama’s second term and eventually, the administration of the next president.
N. Joseph Cayer, professor emeritus of public administration at Arizona State University, and Kenneth Connelly BA’12, MA’13, co-founder and vice president for Connelly Consulting & Compliance LLC, were co-authors of the study.
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