In June 2006, my denominational body required me to fill out an eighteen page document called Mobility Papers. Filling it out was a pain, but a necessary step to be taken after my wife and I had determined that, after what was then nearly sixteen years at our second parish, I needed to open myself to the possibility of being called to serve another congregation. I don’t deal well with paperwork and frankly, it took me longer to fill out the Mobility Papers than it does for me to fill out our tax returns every year. But I did complete the form. There are just some hoops that can’t be avoided in life.
But this morning I ask myself, if I were an ambitious and highly-qualified person holding a good job, whether I’d be willing to fill out President-elect Obama’s version of Mobility Papers?
Sure, it’s only seven pages long. Some of the questions are so open-ended though, and in some cases, so intrusive, that one wonders, as I’m inclined to wonder about anyone who “applies” to become President, what self-respecting person would go through such a vetting process?
Other questions ask applicants to provide copies of every iteration of their resumes for the preceding decade, while others ask them to rack their brains for the memory of anything they’ve ever done in their lifetimes that might cause the Administration embarrassment.
Responses to that latter question require an applicant to have something like ESP, asking them to anticipate what new transgression might be regarded as a sin in the next four years. This isn’t an easy task, given the ever-shifting mores and bases for controversy that have, for the past three-and-a-half decades, been a staple of Washington life. (Ever since Vietnam and Watergate.)
Notes The New York Times:
The questionnaire includes 63 requests for personal and professional records, some covering applicants’ spouses and grown children as well, that are forcing job-seekers to rummage from basements to attics, in shoe boxes, diaries and computer archives to document both their achievements and missteps.
Only the smallest details are excluded; traffic tickets carrying fines of less than $50 need not be reported, the application says. Applicants are asked whether they or anyone in their family owns a gun. They must include any e-mail that might embarrass the president-elect, along with any blog posts and links to their Facebook pages.
The application also asks applicants to “please list all aliases or ‘handles’ you have used to communicate on the Internet.”
Most information must cover at least the past decade, including the names of anyone applicants lived with; a chronological list of activities for which applicants were paid; real estate and loans over $10,000, and their terms, for applicants and spouses; net worth statements submitted for loans, and organization memberships — in particular, memberships in groups that have discriminated on the basis of race, sex, disability, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
There are no time limits for some information, including liens, tax audits, lawsuits, legal charges, bankruptcies or arrests. Applicants must report all businesses with which they and their spouses have been affiliated or in which they have had a financial stake of more than 5 percent. All gifts over $50 that they and their spouses have received from anyone other than close friends or relatives must be identified.
Just in case the previous 62 questions do not ferret out any potential controversy, the 63rd is all-encompassing: “Please provide any other information, including information about other members of your family, that could suggest a conflict of interest or be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family, or the president-elect.”
Clearly, the Obama people want to avoid the controversies and embarrassments past incoming presidents have weathered only after their nominees and appointees have been announced to a media only too eager to discern holes in the official vetting processes or any hint of presidential hypocrisy.
The Times article has a link to a PDF file of the questionnaire. Look it over and tell me if you’d submit to it for the privilege of serving in Washington, where every day you go to work, you wear a great big target on your back?
[This has been cross-posted on my personal blog.]