fbpx Personnel Is Policy: Building Teams in American Government | Harvard Kennedy School
Yohannes Abraham Photo

Yohannes Abraham

Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy


Every policymaker hopes to see their work executed, and that execution depends on bringing together the right team. While teams matter in every industry, there are pressures and considerations that are unique to the political arena. This course is designed to give students a practical understanding of the mechanics and strategic choices behind selecting, attracting, retaining, and, when necessary, confirming a top notch political team.


We will start with developing a framework for understanding personnel decisions in politics: the principal’s personality, policy priorities, and political realities. Among other topics, we will then explore the mechanics of transitions of power and developing a staff structure; tradeoffs between longtime confidants, political professionals, and outside experts; the balance between attracting high profile "all-stars" and optimizing for team synergy; personnel decisions in the midst of crises; the role of Congress and the media in talent selection; and the practical realities of confirmation battles. 


Presidential nominees manage the some of the largest organizations in the world; presidential appointees execute a president's mission; judicial nominees help define a president's legacy. Talent management is at the heart of the American presidency. From pre-election transition teams to the team tasked with handing over the keys, we will also explore how an American president's personnel needs change over the lifecycle of a presidency. 


While the course materials and discussions will primarily focus on personnel choices in the U.S. federal context, it will aim to arm students who aspire to work at all levels of government and politics with an understanding of the goals and tensions to consider when putting together or joining a team.