As most political junkies waited last week to hear what “job” the Administration offered Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) in exchange for him not running against Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) in the Keystone State’s Senate primary, most if not all of us believed the job would be just that, an actually job. Instead, the White House office of legal counsel issued a statement on Friday saying the job that was offered Rep. Sestak was actually not a job but a non-paying position on a presidential board. I don’t know about you but I remember writing my résumé for possible job opportunities “back in the day” and learning that in constructing an impressive résumé, it was clear that the category under “previous or current employment,” the résumé reader should expect to read about a job or employment where you received funds to do the task. Further, when constructing a résumé, there was a specific category where the résumé writer should tout their service on boards or commissions. I guess readers can assume since Rep. Sestak is almost 60 years old, that it has been some time since he constructed a résumé and thus forgot this basic rule in résumé writing.
If you want to give the congressman a pass on his résumé-writing skills, you might not feel so generous when giving a pass to the administration or the White House legal counsel office. You see, if you look at the board’s own website, you will see the very first line describing the board membership. In that first line, it clearly forbids federal employees from serving on the board. You can also see in the memorandum issued from the White House Counsel’s office last Friday, that the offer to Rep. Sestak was made: “to allow him to retain his seat in the House, and provide him with an opportunity for additional service to the public in a high-level advisory capacity for which he was highly qualified.” Just so the readers know a bit about the White House counsel’s office, there are approximately 20 senior lawyers currently in the office. About half are either from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia or the University Of Chicago Law School.
As a former elected officer if the U.S. Senate, one of the responsibilities of my office was to assist the respective Senate leaders in the appointment of appropriate men and women to the hundreds of thousands of boards and commissions under the purview of the Senate majority or minority leaders. As a general rule of thumb, an entry-level staffer or intern kept tabs on the various boards and commissions as far as the restrictions for membership, terms of service and the like. Remember that the restriction for service on the board Rep. Sestak was offered was identified in the first line on the board’s own website. Once the basic board requirements were identified, then numerous layers of staff and advisors participated in making recommendations to the leader as to who might fit a particular board or commission. Some boards have regional requirements, past employment requirements, age, income or religious requirements and on and on it goes.
The first step in approaching any board member process is to know the requirements as stipulated in the creation of the board. For this obvious fact to have been missed by potentially dozens of lawyers and senior staff along the way leading up to the idea being sanctioned by our sitting president and then pitched to a former president, is alarming to say the least. It would be laughable along the lines of “Keystone Cops” if we weren’t talking about our president, a former president and all of the folks in between that presumably had a hand in suggesting this offer be made. Maybe the suggestion by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to call for a special prosecutor to investigate the White House in this situation isn’t such a bad idea. Otherwise future White House board recommendations might include Cheech & Chong to the Noxious and Exotic Weed Agency or a former staffer to the deceased Iraqi “Chemical Ali” to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Board.
Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, four-times-elected United States Senate secretary for the Majority and Minority. She is the founder of GradeGov.com.