The PLUM Act: A new era of transparency into senior leadership government
Back to Blog

The PLUM Act: A new era of transparency into senior leadership government

April 19, 2023 | Updated on April 26, 2023

In 1952, President Dwight Eisenhower requested a list of positions he would be responsible for filling in his new administration. Thus began the tradition of the Plum Book, nicknamed for its listing of “plum” top jobs in the government and the plum-colored cover page of the printed version. Reflecting the size and scope of today’s government, recent Plum Books list more than 4,000 political appointees – about 1,200 of whom are subject to Senate confirmation – along with thousands of other jobs filled by senior career officials in the federal civil service. 

The Plum Book should be what President Eisenhower envisioned – a key tool for presidential transition planning. Moreover, as the information age increasingly raises expectations for government transparency and accessibility, the Plum Book should provide up-to-date information to the public on the leadership and organization of federal agencies. The Plum Book has failed on both counts. 

Fortunately, a bipartisan group in Congress last year took up the cause of modernizing the Plum Book in the cleverly named Periodically Listing Updates to Management (PLUM Act). 

Prior to the passage of the PLUM Act, the Office of Personnel Management sent out a data call to federal agencies to collect Plum Book information every four years, in the summer of an election year. Unfortunately, the listing captured a moment in time that was already out of date by the time the Plum Book was published. On top of that, the information listed in the Plum Book was inconsistent across editions and contained numerous errors and omissions.  

In 2021 congressional testimony, a 2020 blog and a 2021 blog, the Partnership for Public Service as well as others who have studied the Plum Book have documented the many deficiencies of the traditional Plum Book. 

The PLUM Act was signed into law in December 2022 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 and made the following improvements to the Plum Book: 

  • While the new Plum Book will not be updated with the near-real-time frequency that the Partnership and others have suggested, a yearly update will shed greater light on an administration’s top leaders and placement of political appointees.  
  • The law requires listing not only officials who hold their positions at the time of publication, but those who those who previously held those positions during the incumbent president’s administration. This will create an archive of leadership for each president.  
  • Because a unique identifier will be assigned to each political appointee, users of the database will be able to easily identify appointees who have served previously in different positions or across administrations. 
  • The law ensures that vacant positions will be listed, providing a complete picture of senior leadership positions, unlike, for example, the 2020 Plum Book, which omitted thousands of positions in the Senior Executive Service.  
  • The law also requires identification of individuals who temporarily serve in vacant positions. This transparency will help reinforce accountability under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, which places limits on how long someone can serve in an acting capacity in a vacant position subject to confirmation by the Senate. 
  • With a modern, online directory, the Office of Personnel Management will be able to fix errors or remedy omissions immediately. 
  • While recent Plum Books have been available online as a PDF, the new Plum Book will be available in a downloadable, machine-readable format, enabling users to perform more sophisticated searches. 

Undoubtedly, the launch of the PLUM Act’s new, improved directory will pave the way for future advancements in transparency on the organization and leadership of our nation’s government. Finally, President Eisenhower’s vision for a comprehensive federal leadership directory will come to fruition in a way that meet’s today’s expectations. 

Leave a Reply