The Plum Book, which lists all the positions appointed by the president, is currently released once every four years, but witnesses at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing May 3 said that the publishing schedule hinders its effectiveness and needs to be modernized.

As of now, the Plum book is a snapshot in time, providing no updates on the pace and progress of how those appointments are being filled until the start of the next presidency.

“The American people deserve better transparency into who is serving them in the Federal government, both in political positions and top career positions. This information is currently produced once every four years in what is known as the Plum book, the same way it has been produced since the 1950s. And every four years, it’s outdated by the time it’s published,” James-Christian Blockwood, executive vice president at the Partnership for Public Service, said at the hearing.

Beyond being outdated with positions that have since been filled since the beginning of the Biden administration, Blockwood notes that there are positions and whole organizations currently missing from the book, which is meant to be an exhaustive list.

“We need to fix it with providing real-time information, fixing errors that we already know not to be accurate, and making it readily assessable, in a more downloadable and machine-readable format,” Blackwood said. “For example, the current Plum book is missing at least 10 organizations … and it does not include the new cyber director and the Executive Office of the President.”

The House Oversight Committee is currently considering legislation that would lead much of the Plum book modernization Blockwood called for in the hearing. The Periodically Listing Updates to Management (PLUM) Act was introduced by committee chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and John Sarbanes, D-Md. and would create a centralized database for these positions.

It’s a bill, Maloney said in her opening statement would “provide the American people with timely and transparent information about senior government officials.”

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) would be required to develop and maintain a website that meets data standards and coordinate with the White House every six months to assure the information is up-to-date and complete. According to a committee memo, the PLUM Act also implements recommendations previously made by the Government Accountability Office.

“The Plum book needs to be modernized, providing real-time online information on how our government is organized and who is the key policy-making positions,” Blockwood said. “I believe a fundamental part of accountability is transparency. And so, if the American public does not know who is filling a position, it makes it hard to know who’s making decisions on their behalf, and who can hold them accountable.”

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Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.
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