I remember this statement in an article (I forgot) but was not able to google an estimate of this number as a German not to so much in knowledge of the US political system.

The reason I'm asking as a scientist/physicist is that in the German research and physics society I hear a lot of rumors that since Trump's election a lot of very important positions in the US research society and administration are still not occupied or occupied by non-scientists, which worsens the collaboration and planning of research projects. Actually, the US ambassador in Germany has become an highly avoided person among diplomats in Germany, which has already become a running gag here, as this is his main job and purpose here, to communicate with diplomats.

But actually I don't want to link this to the current republican government, I'm rather interested to know, if the government changes from Democratic to Republican or vice versa, how much employees working in the government, the several ministries get exchanged? Is above number the right order of magnitude? This is of course necessary and the same happens in Germany when different political parties take over government to establish their political agenda with employees from the same party or sharing similar political views. In Germany it plays a stronger role if one is catholic/protestant when not in a party but the conservative party is in government.

It's kind of a Fermi problem/question, so for Germany I would calculate around 14 ministries, everyone has a minister and 10 subordinate secretaries of state, often also being experts not in the same party as the minister, but necessarily having of course same political views. These secretaries of state will also higher new and loyal staff and so on... But I don't see how you would come up to necessarily 1,000 or 50,000?!

I expect some rational estimate like this, I would be surprised if the number is fluctuating strongly between change from dem to rep or vice versa. And I would like to know in best case how long this full exchange takes until 50%, 90% of these jobs are exchanged.

Sources from skeptics.se comments:



  • Just to clarify, do you mean federal employees / civil servants?
    – JJJ
    Feb 12, 2019 at 18:43
  • @JJJ Hmm, I don't want to clarifiy after thinking about it, as I would like to know if both groups are also strongly affected by a government change and how far this chain reaction of changing the polical party governing goes down. Statistically every 4th year some drastic exchanges have to happen in distinct ministries for such a government change. If it stronger pronouncend in defence, research, finance and how this changed over the decades (different evolution of lobbyism etc.) I find quite interesting, but I don't know where to start googling :-) Feb 12, 2019 at 19:08
  • I guess that makes it quite broad then. I think limiting to government employees increases your chances of getting a good answer, but it's up to you.
    – JJJ
    Feb 12, 2019 at 19:38
  • I'll check for sources, but living in DC I think we'd notice if there were that much of a difference. My instinct is to say it seems off by a factor of 10, and it's closer to 5,000.
    – David Rice
    Feb 12, 2019 at 20:37
  • The US civil service system was put in place to reduce the number of partisan appointments. Most US government employees are civil service or military (if you count them). Feb 12, 2019 at 21:35

1 Answer 1


I'm pretty sure that this has already been answered on this site. But I can't find it and it's easy to answer. Wikipedia has a page for political appointments in the United States. It says,

As of 2016, there are around 4,000 political appointment positions which an incoming administration needs to review, and fill or confirm, of which about 1,200 require Senate confirmation.

This 4000 includes staff for appointees. I.e. people who do not have to go through the civil service hiring process.

Wikipedia also has a page for congressional staff, which includes

In the year 2000, there were approximately 11,692 personal staff, 2,492 committee staff, 274 leadership staff, 5,034 institutional staff, and 3,500 GAO employees, 747 CRS employees, and 232 CBO employees.

That's less than 25,000. Also, most of those won't change even if the House and/or Senate changes hands. Because most of the congressional seats don't change.

Even if we add congressional staff, which mostly doesn't change, to the 4000 political appointments that do, we still don't reach anywhere close to 50,000.

It's possible that they are also including normal employment changes in the federal government. However, these are outside the direct control of the president and governed by exams and other objective measures. I could easily see this including 50,000 per year, but again, these aren't political appointments but simple hires.

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