The Changing of the Guard is Approaching

Earlier in the week, I attended a party for Dan Kaniewski, who served as Special Assistant to the President for Homeland Security. Dan was one of the first interns I brought aboard CFSI shortly after I became executive director in 1995. The party was attended by a number of Administration officials who, like Dan, have served at the request of the incumbent President George Bush. Some were individuals with whom I have worked over the past eight years on issues relating to the fire service. Like Dan, they will soon be searching for new positions outside of the Administration, not by choice but by necessity as the next President will bring aboard a new team of appointees to develop and implement policies consistent with his own ideals and philosophy.

There are an estimated 3,500 political appointee positions in the federal government, one thousand of which are subject to Senate confirmation. Virtually every federal agency has political appointees. These are the individuals who help a President establish control of the executive branch and ensure the success of his policy agenda.

In a little over five months, the federal agencies will begin to issue business cards and security clearances for a new legion of appointees. Many of their resumes will include campaign work for the winning candidate. They will come from Capitol Hill, seeking opportunities within the executive branch after having refined their skills and expertise in the legislative branch. Think tanks, trade associations and policy institutes will also experience exoduses, as the new Administration will seek to fill key positions at the various federal agencies with talented and experienced professionals on manifold subject matter.

Much of our attention will focus on the nomination of key cabinet officials and their immediate deputies - the Secretary of Homeland Security, FEMA Director and the Fire Administrator. But we should also pay close attention to the level below - the deputy secretaries, the chiefs of staff, the directors of agencies, and special advisors. This is where the rubber meets the road on policy implementation.

Last month, I received an e-mail from the White House announcing that Joe Hagin was resigning as Deputy Chief of Staff to the President. Few within the fire service probably have heard his name, but Joe is a former firefighter from Ohio. If there was an issue I felt needed the attention of the White House, I went to Joe as did a few other fire service representatives. He deserves a lot of credit for reversing the Administration's course in addressing the Hometown Heroes claims. He also was very influential in the President's two appearances at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Services in Emmitsburg. Last year, the President stayed for the entire ceremony. While Joe did not wear the title of "Cabinet Secretary" nor was he a high profile figure, his influence within the White House was invaluable on fire service matters brought to his attention.

We have also developed and maintained close working relationships with officials from Office of Management and Budget, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies. Many existed before theses officials assumed key positions within the Administration. Marko Bourne, Domingo Herraiz, Michael Bopp, Josh Dozor and Dan are but a few of the individuals who brought to their jobs an acute understanding of fire service issues that have helped us in advocating our concerns within the Administration. These names may not resonate in fire stations, but they do within the national fire organizations.

In Washington, where employment longevity is often measured in months, it behooves you to remain in contact with people you meet on a professional level, regardless of their stature or title. You never know what title they may hold when you see them again. For example, when I first moved to Washington in 1985, I roomed with a guy who was a press secretary for a junior member of Congress from New York. He was a relatively small fish in a big ocean. Sixteen years later, Ari Fleischer served as Press Secretary for President Bush. (For the record, I always like to remind Ari that his greatest accomplishment was introducing me to my wife.)

The young legislative assistant you may have met last year to discuss a homeland security issue for your fire department might become DHS's deputy assistant secretary of legislative affairs under the next administration or a director of a federal office or program. While the fire service should weigh-in on the process of selecting the next Secretary of Homeland Security, FEMA Director and US Fire Administrator, we should also keep close tabs on the personnel decisions for other key positions within the Administration. The individuals occupying these positions are often the ones who will work with us on a daily basis and help us advocate our issues.

Borrowing an adage, it is not necessarily what you know but who you know in Washington that can make a difference.

BILL WEBB, a Contributing Editor, is the Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI). Established in 1989, CFSI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy institute designed to enhance Congressional awareness about the concerns and needs of the fire and emergency services. In his capacity, Bill works closely with members of Congress and fire service leaders on developing federal legislation to improve the readiness of our nation's fire and emergency services. Previously, he served in the first Bush Administration as Director of Advance at the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor, traveling across the country and abroad organizing events for the Secretaries. To read Bill's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here.