(WOMENSENEWS)–Far fewer women are making policy decisions in President George W. Bush’s administration than during the Clinton administration, a development some observers are calling a major step backwards for women’s representation in government. Yet women hold unprecedented rank on the White House staff.
Of the 402 Bush nominees so far whose positions require Senate confirmation, 102 are women, or about 25 percent, according to WENews analysis of data from the Brookings Institution, a progressive Washington think tank. These numbers are down sharply from the 37 percent level in the first-year Cabinet and sub-Cabinet appointments in the Clinton administration, as measured by a Knight Ridder news service analysis of comparable data in 1993.
Bush had 510 positions open for appointments in his first year in office. He held over 42 Clinton appointees and another 63 positions are yet to be filled. Clinton had 512 such openings.
“What’s disheartening to me is what [the data] reflects about the access of women to the White House, especially when we see who does get access–i.e., Enron,” said Roselyn O’Connell, an Arizona Republican who is president of the bipartisan National Women’s Political Caucus, which promotes women in elected office. “We would be seeing different policies and priorities if there were women in more of these key positions.”
O’Connell is also co-chair of the 2001 Women’s Appointments Project, a bipartisan coalition that has advocated representation of women in presidential administrations since 1976. The project has had few opportunities to put forward names and resumes in the current Bush administration, project officials said.
The data underscore a trend first reported by Women’s Enews last July. At the time, leaders of women’s groups said they had been “shut out” of the appointment process for the first time since the Nixon presidency.
Bush Hired Staff Includes Women in Top Jobs
The Bush administration’s initial round of appointments did include a number of high-profile women. The administration named three women to the Cabinet and two others in Cabinet-level positions, including Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman; Interior Secretary Gale Norton; Labor Secretary Elaine Chao; Christine Todd Whitman, head of the Environmental Protection Agency; and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice. Chao is Asian American and Rice is African American, offering further diversity to Bush’s advisors.
Pat Carpenter, executive director of The WISH List, a pro-choice Republican political action committee for state and national women candidates, declined to comment on whether she is satisfied with the representation of women among the president’s appointees. However, she said that she’s impressed with the influence of women advisers like White House Communications Director Karen Hughes.
“I think he has a lot of bright, outstanding women in the administration,” Carpenter said. Hughes is widely viewed as the most powerful woman ever to work officially in the White House. And while scholars said the percentage of women in top staff positions–as opposed to cabinet and sub-cabinet posts–has remained constant with the change in administration, some say that women have this president’s ear more often than any previous commander in chief allowed in the past.
Examples include Hughes, director of the Domestic Policy Council Margaret Spelling and Vice President Cheney’s adviser Mary Matalin. These staff positions and that of National Security Adviser Rice are not subject to Senate confirmation and so do not show up in the Brookings data.
“It’s true that there are fewer women throughout the administration, but if you were to look at how much’face time’ women advisers get with the president on a daily basis, then Bush can arguably claim the lead,” said G. Calvin Mackenzie, a Brookings Institution visiting fellow who has developed and tracked appointee data going back to the Eisenhower administration.
Burk: “We Are Not Talking About a Special Interest Group”
But Martha Burk, president of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, said many more women deserve to be around the table when policy priorities are being set. Their input is important because women and men look at issues in different ways, she said.
“We’re not talking about a special interest group here. We’re talking about a majority of the voters,” said Burk, whose coalition of women’s groups represents 6 million women. “We are long past the time that people can claim that qualified women can’t be identified. There’s a lack of will to make this happen.”
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 attempts to promote administrative reforms and assist nominees navigate background checks and confirmation hearings.
The raw numbers are not exactly comparable from administration to administration because not all appointees’ terms expire with a change in administration, agencies get reorganized and job titles and responsibilities change over time. Brookings based its comparison between administrations on percentages of similar positions.
For more information:
Also see Women’s Enews
“Women’s Appointments Plummet Under Bush,” July 1, 2001,
The National Women’s Political Caucus:
The National Council of Women’s Organizations:
2001 Women’s Appointments Project:
The WISH List: