Brace for full disclosure

Bid for Obama administration post requires heavy paperwork

Obama's Transition

November 13, 2008|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON - Want a top job in the Obama administration? Only pack rats need apply, preferably those not packing controversy.

A seven-page questionnaire being sent by the office of President-elect Barack Obama to those seeking Cabinet and other high-ranking posts may be the most extensive - some say invasive - application ever.

The questionnaire includes 63 requests for personal and professional records, some covering applicants' spouses and grown children as well, that are forcing job-seekers to rummage from basements to attics, in shoe boxes, diaries and computer archives to document both their achievements and missteps.

Only the smallest details are excluded; traffic tickets carrying fines of less than $50 need not be reported, the application says. Applicants are asked whether they or anyone in their family owns a gun. They must include any e-mail that might embarrass Obama, along with any blog posts and links to their Facebook pages.

The application also asks applicants to "please list all aliases or 'handles' you have used to communicate on the Internet."

The vetting process for Executive Branch jobs has been onerous for decades, with each incoming administration erecting new barriers in an effort to avoid the mistakes of the past or the controversies of the present. It is typically updated to reflect technological change (there was no Facebook the last time a new president came to town).

But Obama has elevated the vetting beyond what might have been expected, especially when it comes to applicants' family members, in a reflection of his campaign rhetoric against lobbying and Washington's back-scratching, self-serving ways.

Jobs with the mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have served as lucrative incubators for Democratic and Republican administration officials. But those affiliations have become potentially toxic since the government seized both companies after years of financial irregularities that have stoked the economic crisis.

Not surprisingly, then, Question 18 of the Obama application asks whether "you, your spouse or any member of your immediate family" has been affiliated with Fannie, Freddie, American International Group, Washington Mutual and any other institution getting a government bailout.

Under the section "Domestic Help," the Obama questionnaire asks for the immigration status of applicants' housekeepers, nannies, chauffeurs and yard workers, and whether applicants have paid the required taxes for household employees. (Those questions reflect controversies that tripped up President Bill Clinton's first two nominees for attorney general in 1993.)

"Every transition is cumulative," said Michael Berman, a lawyer and lobbyist who worked in the transitions of both Clinton and President Jimmy Carter. After reviewing the Obama application, Berman added, "I am very happy I am not seeking a job in the federal government."

A former Clinton White House official who insisted on anonymity said in an e-mail message, "I believe it is considerably more detailed than we had to fill out in '93. Interesting that they want spouse information on everything - means lots of folks are going to have to list the very prominent - and controversial - companies that their spouses work/ lobby for."

The first question asks applicants not just for a resume, but for every resume and biographical statement issued by them or others for the past 10 years - a likely safeguard against resume falsehoods, one Clinton administration veteran said.

Most information must cover at least the past decade, including the names of anyone applicants lived with; a chronological list of all activities for which applicants were paid; any real estate and loans over $10,000, and their terms, for both applicants and spouses; all net worth statements submitted for loans; and any organization memberships - in particular, memberships in groups that have discriminated on the basis of race, sex, disability, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

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