Mary Kirtley Waters sworn in by Ann Veneman

(WOMENSENEWS)–President George W. Bush is appointing dramatically fewer women to executive branch political posts than Bill Clinton did early in his administration, reversing a trend toward increased representation of women at all levels of government over the past several decades.

So far, just 69 of the president’s 264 nominations requiring Senate confirmation are women, or 26.1 percent, according to analysis of data from the Brookings Institution’s Presidential Appointee Initiative.

The Bush administration numbers for women in the Cabinet and sub-Cabinet are down sharply from the 37 percent level in the first 512 appointments in the Clinton administration, measured by a Knight Ridder news service analysis of comparable data in 1993.

“I’m discouraged on behalf of the many, many qualified women seeking these jobs, and I’m discouraged for women generally because it’s a signal that we’re just not that important,” says Roselyn O’Connell, Republican president of the bipartisan National Women’s Political Caucus. She also is co-chair of the Women’s Appointment Project, a bipartisan coalition advocating increased representation of women in presidential administrations. It has advised presidents since 1976.

The number of African American political appointments is also down sharply to 9 percent of nominees, compared with 15 percent under Clinton, according to the Brookings Institution, a political think tank that has assembled a bipartisan team to advise its Presidential Appointee Initiative.

The Brookings Institution reports that 24 of 264 appointees are African American–9.1 percent, including 7.3 percent male and 1.82 percent female.

Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, executive director of the Black Leadership Forum, says she is not surprised by the drop in African American and women appointees. She called the administration’s intentional effort to put in place a diverse Cabinet “showcasing.”

High-Profile Appointments of a Few Blacks Called ‘Showcasing’

“I don’t think pointing to (Secretary of State) Colin Powell and (National Security Adviser) Condoleezza Rice can begin to address the priorities and issues that affect the lives of any minority community every day,” Scruggs says. “It’s intentionally distracting and cynical to imply that all those concerns can be addressed in foreign policy.” The Black Leadership Forum is a 24-year-old confederation of civil rights and service organizations, headquartered in Washington, D.C.

A similar analysis last week in The National Journal weekly magazine listed 6 percent of 300 top appointees as Hispanic and 3 percent as Asian American.

That publication’s tally included several dozen top staff jobs and key advisers and found that the diversity of the Bush administration is actually greater when White House staff and advisers are factored in, though the proportion of women remains at about one-fourth of all the top jobs. Representation of African Americans rises to about 10 percent when key staff and advisers are factored in.

The Bush administration’s lagging appointments of women follow a host of high-profile appointments that appeared to be racially diverse and sensitive to the concerns of women, minorities and moderate Republicans in general. The administration named five women to Cabinet-level positions. They are Cabinet secretaries Ann Veneman in Agriculture, Gale Norton in Interior and Elaine Chao, who is Asian American, in Labor. Two others hold Cabinet-level posts: Christine Todd Whitman in the Environmental Protection Agency and National Security Adviser Rice, who is African American.

Though the Bush White House appeared purposeful in its initial, highly visible appointments, three-quarters of its later nominees have been men, and four of every five appointees are white.

For more information, visit:

The National Women’s Political Caucus:

The National Council of Women’s Organizations:

The Brookings Institution’s Presidential Appointee Initiative:

The WISH List:

The White House:

Percentage of Women Appointees Since the Johnson Administration

Bush (G.)
Bush (G.W.)

Sources: Brookings Institution, Women’s Appointment Project, National Academy of Public Administration, WEnews analysis.

In response to queries from Women’s Enews, White House Deputy Communications Director Nicolle Devenish said in a written statement that President Bush is proud of the “exceptionally qualified women of great influence in the administration,” including those in the Cabinet and in key staff positions, such as Communications Director Karen Hughes, Domestic Policy Adviser Margaret LaMontagne and Vice President Cheney’s adviser Mary Matalin.

“The President has sought out a diverse and talented team to serve in his Administration and one-quarter of these individuals are women,” Devenish wrote. “There are no quotas in the White House, rather the President will continue to appoint individuals based on many factors which include merit, experience, diversity and loyalty.”

O’Connell, of the National Women’s Political Caucus, says that though the Women’s Appointment Project held some cordial meetings with officials, the Bush administration has agreed to few high-level sessions and it declined to designate a staff person to ensure fair representation of women.

Women Cite Numbers, Lack of Access to Show Women Have Been Shut Out

“We’ve been shut out,” O’Connell says. “The access we were hoping for has not materialized, but I’m ever hopeful that maybe something will change.”

Still, Bush has named Republican women to several important posts, including these in recent weeks:

  • Josefina Carbonell, a Miami native, to be assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for Aging. She is a founder and president of the Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Centers of Dade County, Fla., and serves on the national technical assistance team to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Carbonell served on the board of directors of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
  • Jo Anne Barnhart, a longtime Republican, to be a commissioner of Social Security for six years. A Delaware native, she is president of a consulting firm and served in the Reagan and first Bush administrations, and as a member of the congressional staff.
  • Susan Schmidt Bies, to be a member of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve System, until 2012. She is an executive of First Tennessee National Corp. and has also served as an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

In addition, in an act emblematic of the naming of women with strong business backgrounds, Agriculture Secretary Veneman, former head of California’s department of food and agriculture, administered the oath of office to Mary Kirtley Waters as assistant secretary of agriculture for congressional relations. Waters was senior director and legislative counsel for ConAgra Foods, a $27-billion-a-year international food and food services company.

The data from the Brookings Institution do not include U.S. attorneys, U.S. marshals or ambassadors, nor do they include many other positions that are appointed but do not require Senate confirmation. Brookings tracks the progress of individuals through the appointment process and aims to promote administrative reforms and help nominees navigate the background checks and confirmation hearings. The appointments project staff plan to address the demographics of Bush appointees this fall or winter, says Executive Director Sandra Stencel.

Under-Representation of Women in Key Policy-Making Roles

Martha Burk, president of the bipartisan National Council of Women’s Organizations, says the administration’s unwillingness to make a commitment to the representation of women has led to fewer women ending up in influential policy-making roles.

“We can no longer accept an argument that the women are not in the pipeline and qualified for these jobs,” says Burk, who is co-chair with O’Connell of the Women’s Appointments Project. “If women make up 51 percent of the population and they’re getting 25 percent of the influential policy-making jobs in the federal government, that’s about half the number it should be.”

The Bush administration has a total of 495 Cabinet and sub-Cabinet-level appointments to make in the Brookings counting scheme, so just over half of the positions so far have been filled, though most nominees have yet to be confirmed by the Senate. The 1993 Knight Ridder news service analysis of President Clinton’s first 512 appointments covered a similar pool of officials outlined by the National Academy of Public Administration.

The raw numbers are not exactly comparable because not all appointees’ terms expire with a change in administration, agencies get reorganized and job titles and responsibilities change over time. The comparison between administrations here is based on percentages of similar positions. Presidents also appoint many high-level officials not subject to Senate confirmation.

O’Connell says the administration’s cool reception to advocates for women appointees is an example of its insensitivity to the concerns of moderate Republicans.

Moderate Republican Women Say They Are Out in the Cold

“It’s discouraging to me as president of the National Women’s Political Caucus, but even more so as a pro-choice Republican woman,” O’Connell says. “There are so many, many qualified women who could do a wonderful job for the administration, and who have the skills, the talent and the ambition, but we’re not even able to make the case for them as we have with other presidents.”

Not all Republican women leaders are troubled by the numbers. Pat Carpenter, executive director of The WISH List, a pro-choice Republican political action committee, says she has confidence that Bush will appoint a greater proportion of women in the future. She also points to the appointments of several WISH List supporters as evidence of Bush’s commitment to including qualified women in top levels of government, including Barnhart, nominated as commissioner of the Social Security Administration, and Miami native Cari Dominguez, nominated as chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“I think he’s doing a good job appointing women, and I think his percentages will go up over time,” Carpenter says. “I’m being patient and optimistic.”

The Women’s Appointments Project is a partnership between two women’s groups with members nationwide. One is the bipartisan National Women’s Political Caucus, which was founded in 1971 to advocate for pro-choice women political candidates in all levels of government. The other is the National Council of Women’s Organizations, a non-partisan network of 109 organizations representing more than six million women, including Business and Professional Women/USA, the American Nurses Association, the National Council of Negro Women and the National Organization for Women.

Pollster Ethel Klein, a specialist in women’s voting patterns, says that the low number of women in the administration is not likely to hurt the administration among voters, because women across the political spectrum care more about issues such as education, environment and health care. However, the decline in the number of women in the administration also is a reflection of the administration’s priorities, she says.

“It’s a piece of a puzzle that’s important, because if women think they’re not being taken seriously, that will really be a problem for Bush,” Klein says. “That’s the heart of pushing the gender gap.”

Marie Tessier is a free-lance writer in Maine who covers national and international affairs. Reported with assistance from Vaishalee Mishra in New York.

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