Thursday, November 13, 2008

Applying to work with Barak

I’m still rattling my tin cup around various corporate offices, pitching for the potential of global innovation and my qualifications as a driver as the annual budget process builds up steam. Thus, the announcement that the Obama administration is now seeing job applicants caught my attentions. I immediately kicked on over to change.gov to see if there was an opening for Minister of Medical Device Entrepreneurship or perhaps something more Orange and Ambassadorial.

The initial application is straightforward, and I was rewarded with encouragement within the hour:

Thank you for your interest in joining the Obama-Biden Administration. Within a few days, you will receive and email with a link to the more complete on-line application. Please be patient, as we are trying to respond promptly to the large number of people who are interested in working in the Administration.

I can’t wait: I’m already measuring for my new desk and curtains.

Seriously, though, when I look at what people in public service go through when the media and the political opposition start digging into their past, I doubt that any expatriate could stand the scrutiny. ‘Living full time outside of the US, engaging in discussions of political contrasts and cultural differences, scattering photographs of adventures in exotic destinations across social networks, I know I’ve left a rich trail of mis-interpretable dirt behind.

The New York Times has published a link to the questionnaire that applicants for high-level Administration jobs must complete. The 63 questions focus, not surprisingly, on “anything that suggests a conflict of interest or a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family, or the President-Elect if it were made public”. Most are professional and financial, asking about employment, taxes, memberships, and investments. Question 7, for example, ask for the circumstances under which I lived or worked abroad, while question 6 probes payments that I’ve received from foreign governments (a vaguely sinister charge).

I’m surprised that there isn’t a question about art and literary works: I have some charcoals from Life Drawing class that could be embarrassing on many levels.

Other questions are more personal: 58 wants my social networking information (more URLs than I like to think about), and 59 checks on my gun ownership (none, for the record). 47 asks about violations of government or agency procedures (my adventures bringing absinthe through customs?); 45 wants me to list law enforcement encounters resulting in fines of more than $50 (The Dutch traffic cameras on the A12 at Utrecht will fill this section, and there are the incidents where I was stopped in Lausanne for talking on a cell phone, and in Bratislava for turning into a street reserved for busses (sigh)).

It is illuminating, and a bit sad, that these are the standards that US society now uses to qualify its public servants. In a world where few are without blemish, I do worry a bit about narrowing down to the type of person who’d led their life in a way that passes these 63 questions without qualification or explanation.

I think about the various questions on job applications and yearly evaluations that I’ve answered over the years in the private sector, questions about the significant professional contributions, good social causes, or the broadening experiences that make up a contributing and productive life. I hope that, once the background check is complete, there will be questions (64 to 100?) that ask applicants to describe their vision, values, and competencies. A few of the exercises that Business Consultancies throw at candidates to check their thought processes might also be good.

We’ll see what my questionnaire looks like, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for the call.

And, for the record, I don’t consider my criticism of the Bush Administration a source of potential embarrassment to my, my family, or the President Elect, even it if might cause someone, overtly or covertly, fairly or unfairly, to criticize me (Question 62).

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