The Politicizing Presidency

The White House Personnel Office, 1948-1994

Thomas J. Weko

From Truman to Clinton presidents have aggressively tried to expand their control over national government. In the process, they have vastly enlarged their White House staffs and politicized the federal bureaucracy with thousands of appointees in key administrative positions. Thomas Weko argues that the Presidential Personnel Office (PPO), charged with screening and recommending such appointees, both exemplifies and helps explain the enormous growth of presidential power since World War II.

Originally conceived as a small advisory group within the White House Office, the PPO has grown enormously from a staff of two under Truman to as many as sixty under other presidents and now oversees nearly four thousand appointments per administration. Weko charts the PPO's evolution and influence and shows how central it is to our understanding of modern presidential leadership.

“A major contribution to scholarship on the appointment process and the institutional development of the post-World War II presidency. It is richly detailed, yet a good read.

—American Political Science Review

“The great strength of Weko’s book is that it is clearheaded without being simpleminded.

—Political Science Quarterly
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Weko's starting point is Terry Moe's rational choice theory that it is the institution of the presidency, not the sitting president, that fosters centralization and politicization within the executive branch. Amplifying and extending Moe's theory, Weko persuasively links the PPO's explosive growth to the weakening of political parties, the post-Eisenhower disintegration of "policy networks," the growing impact of television news, and the public's increasing readiness to hold the President accountable for policy failures.

The PPO's growth clearly has increased presidential control and bureaucratic responsiveness. But Weko argues those results have had unanticipated and unwanted consequences that, among other things, have undermined the integrity and capabilities of administrative agencies. Any improvement in the leadership of the executive branch, he contends, can only emerge from changes in the current institutional arrangement of the presidency itself.

Based on exhaustive research in White House files, oral histories, and memoirs, and personal interviews with over 100 White House aides, Weko's study provides a provocative new look at the White House Office and the modern presidency.

About the Author

Thomas J. Weko is assistant professor in the Department of Politics and Government at the University of Puget Sound.

Additional Titles in the Studies in Government and Public Policy Series