Envious of Trump, Netanyahu to Seek More Political Appointments

'We need to be able to govern... they won’t let us run the country' Netanyahu says, announcing panel to explore ways to rein in search committees, give ministers more power over tenders for civil servants.

Avi Bar-Eli
Barak Ravid
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking with Donald Trump, September 25, 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking with Donald Trump, September 25, 2016.Credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO
Avi Bar-Eli
Barak Ravid

Pointing to the wide latitude United States President-elect Donald Trump has in making political appointments, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday named a panel to propose changes in the way independent search committees approve candidates for senior government posts.

“Trump has 4,000 jobs that are personal appointments. We need a few hundred appointments here that do not require a tender,” Netanyahu said at the end of the weekly cabinet meeting and formed a panel to address the issue.

The 4,000 figure is the number of jobs Trump is in the process of filling in the White House, government departments and independent agencies. About a quarter of those, however, are not at his sole discretion and require Senate approval.

“What is certain is that with Trump, officials will carry out his policy. Here, too, we need to be able to govern,” the prime minister said.

Netanyahu made his comments during a discussion about the appointment of deputy attorney generals, in which an argument ensued over whether their terms should be limited to six or eight years.

The debate eventually evolved into a discussion of the status of senior staff in ministries generally. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz and Interior Minister Arye Dery complained about how hard it is to appoint and fire senior officials because of rules requiring that a search committee be formed beforehand to name a replacement.

Netanyahu complained, too. “They won’t let us run the country. The fact is the [IDF] chief of staff is not appointed by a search committee and the police commissioner is not appointed by a search committee. In the police and army things work properly.”

Netanyahu concluded the discussion by naming a panel headed by his confidant Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to present a proposal to the cabinet for reforming the search committees. Dery and Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Galant were also named to the committee.

Meanwhile, TheMarker has learned that the government has been quietly working on a plan that would weaken the powers of the Civil Service Commission to oversee appointments to government jobs and give more powers to ministers.

The change is being hotly debated inside the Civil Service Commission itself, but is likely to be made in January by Civil Service Commissioner Moshe Dayan.

The reform would “delegate” authority to set terms for job tenders, such as the job and education experience a candidate for the job needs, to the ministries themselves, i.e., to the minister himself when he or she chooses and could thus be tailored to ensure that a political confidante is the top candidate for the job.

The Civil Service Commission will monitor the tender process and will have the authority to intervene if it sees a need, but only retroactively, after the process has already begun.

A government committee headed by Ron Tsur, an official in the commission, is working on the final details of the plan. The committee’s other members include Prime Minister’s Office Director General Eli Groner, who has lobbied in the past to expand minsters’ right to make political appointments to ministry deputy directors general.

The basis of the proposed reform ironically is a section in wider reforms that were first initiated five years ago and aimed at cutting red tape and making appointments, promotions and job changes more efficient by spinning off much of the commission’s role to the ministries and government agencies themselves.

The reforms included a section that would allow the commission to delegate terms for job tenders so long as certain standards are established, among them a position for ensuring there would be no abuse. None of the conditions have ever been formalized, but the government began a pilot program a year ago with 38 ministries and agencies.

Civil Service Commission sources said the expanded delegation of powers will be done with caution, and stressed their ability to intervene.

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