Job Seekers In Administration Face Tough Questions
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Do you or an immediate family member own a gun and has the registration ever lapsed? Have you ever kept a diary or sent an email or text message that could be a possible source of embarrassment? Have you hired domestic help? And if so, were the workers legally eligible to work in the US? Those are just a few of the 63 questions, not counting follow ups, on the seven page questionnaire that's being sent to people seeking top jobs in the Obama administration. New York Times correspondent Jackie Calmes got a copy of the questionnaire and Jackie, how much more detailed is this form than those in the past?
Ms. JACKIE CALMES (Correspondent, The New York Times): Well, I think it's definitely is more detailed, invasive even. And I circulated it to a few people from Bush and Clinton and Carter transitions and they all said that while they did fairly thorough vettings, that this one was definitely more detailed, and as one person put it, that each time you have a transition, it's cumulative that they're adding questions that reflect mistakes made in the past and they add questions to reflect current controversies. In this case, the economic crisis.
BLOCK: Yeah, you mentioned mistakes of the past, and of course, there are as we mentioned questions about domestic employees and whether they are legal. We remembered Nannygate from the first days of the Clinton administration.
CALMES: Those of us who are old enough, remember it.
BLOCK: Yes, when two attorney general nominees got into trouble because of domestic help. There are new frontiers here, too that speak to the age we're in. People are being asked to provide the URL address of any website that features you, like Facebook or Myspace. Any aliases or handles they've used to communicate on the internet. I think we probably wouldn't have seen those eight years ago when George Bush came in.
CALMES: That is definitely an addition that just reflects the times and, you know, you read these stories sometimes about people giving advise for job seekers in the private sector, and they say, be careful of those Facebook pages. Well, it's advice that's all the better given to people who think they want to be in the public sector.
BLOCK: You know there's another interesting thing in these questions because it pertains, many of them pertain, not just to the applicant but also to family members, to the spouse and also in some cases, to children over 21.
CALMES: Yeah, that - the people I consulted with said seemed to go further than applications in the past, towards having people attest to sort of what sort of controversies and connections their spouses and grown children have. This seems to go even further, and in part, I think that reflects Barack Obama's campaign in the extent to which he campaigned against Washington and against sort of the in-bred, self promoting ways of Washington, and you wouldn't want, he's already been in trouble where he says, well, I'm not going to have lobbyists run my campaign or my administration. And then people would point out that someone working with him had a spouse who was a lobbyist.
BLOCK: Jackie, I was trying to figure out where the boundaries are on this questionnaire. They do ask about you know, any embarrassing emails people may have sent. They don't ask about past drug use, they don't ask about infidelity, what's off limits here?
CALMES: Well, I think the reason they don't ask is because there's at least two, and in some - you could read others, as being questions that are so open ended that, you know, where you're essentially being asked to give the rope to hang yourself, by asking, is there any possible controversy that might embarrass you, your family, or the president-elect. And it's all towards combing that for anything that might be embarrassing.
BLOCK: And you can just imagine how many people it'll take to go through all of this data that they're asking for.
CALMES: Can you imagine?
BLOCK: They're going to need an extra warehouse I think.
BLOCK: Jackie Calmes is correspondent for the New York Times. Jackie, thanks very much.
CALMES: Thank you.
BLOCK: You can find the entire questionnaire for would-be Obama administration officials at npr.org.
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