Ms. Benton was so thrilled with the election of Barack Obama as president that she has become one of about 300,000 people who have, so far, put themselves forward for posts in the new administration. At the equivalent time in the George W. Bush transition eight years ago, with his election still in dispute, there were about 44,000 applicants, according to Clay Johnson, who led the Bush transition effort. Mr. Johnson said the final figure was about 90,000.
In 1968, President-elect Richard M. Nixon’s aides were so uncertain about the availability and willingness of people to take administration jobs that they sent more than 70,000 letters to everyone listed in Who’s Who in America, asking for names of potential federal appointees.
But that is surely not a problem at Obama transition headquarters in Washington, where more than 50 staff aides have been busily classifying and downloading résumés into a computer system that lists applicants’ special skills and, one official said, what notable political sponsors they might have.
The excitement about an Obama administration along with the cyclical pent-up eagerness of Democrats denied the employment bounty of the executive branch for eight years has fueled the surge, although the unraveling economy may be adding its own boost.
The presidential historian Michael R. Beschloss said that “it’s hard to find a parallel in modern times to this degree of enthusiasm for going into government,” all the more striking in a period previously known for cynicism about government employment.
Ms. Benton, an African-American who is well-known in Los Angeles political circles, said she would love to work in some way for the future first lady, Michelle Obama, because she is greatly impressed “with her style and the dignified way she handles situations.” Ms. Benton has sent her résumé to www.change.gov, the transition clearinghouse, and has begun thinking about who she knows who could put in a good word.
Obama officials have said they might have more than double their current number of applications by Inauguration Day. “There are a lot of people who want to work in the administration,” David Axelrod, a senior Obama aide, exulted to reporters this week. “That’s great. That’s great for the country.”
But not necessarily great for the job seekers because there are actually only about 3,300 positions an incoming administration gets to fill. That means that despite the appealing notion of hordes of eager newcomers swarming to change Washington, the vast majority of those seeking jobs will be disappointed.
Mr. Johnson, who is now deputy director for management at the Office and Management and Budget, said most people were stunned to learn that the percentage of politically appointed employees in the federal government is so small, a mere 0.17 percent of the civilian work force of 1.9 million.
Mr. Johnson, who is well regarded by Republicans and Democrats alike for his expertise about federal employment issues, said that there were about 1,000 senior positions in the federal agencies that required Senate confirmation. These are typically positions like assistant, deputy and under secretary.
In addition there are 8,000 senior bureaucrats in what is called the Senior Executive Service and by law, no more than 10 percent, or 800, of these managerial positions may be filled by political appointees. Finally, he said, an administration has some 1,500 jobs to fill, known as Schedule C slots, with salaries ranging from about $25,000 to $150,000. The lower end of this scale are those jobs that people traditionally think of as political slots — suitable, say, for some party leader’s niece who just graduated from college.
(That adds up to 3,300, not including hundreds of federal judges, diplomats and members of boards and commissions.)
Thousands of People applies to find a new job in Obama Administration, despite thier strict vetting process. It's worth noting that US lost 1.8 Million jobs this year alone.
“To have one or two political appointees for every thousand employees is not unreasonable,” Mr. Johnson said. “It’s actually a minimal number given that every new administration wants to bring its own initiatives and needs a fresh set of people committed to those new policies.”
The long odds of landing a position have probably contributed to the frenzy of job seekers trying to gain whatever advantage they can.
One person involved in the Obama campaign said she had been contacted for help on behalf of someone who was three degrees removed — a friend of a relative of a friend. The Obama person spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying that to do otherwise, or to name names, would simply embarrass all concerned.
Another Obama supporter, a prolific fund-raiser, said that he had forwarded dozens of names to the Obama transition office although he acknowledged that he still found the sorting and hiring process mysterious.
“I believe that those who actually make the decisions on hiring are part of a relatively tightly held group,” he said, but job seekers inevitably go to the most visible supporters to seek help.
He also spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he hoped to reduce the number of supplicants coming his way.
Another route for applicants is to begin with an elected Democratic official. Aides to Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York said they had, so far, about 100 requests to forward expressions of interest in jobs at all levels of government. Mr. Schumer himself added another explanation for the flood of job seekers: Democrats, he said, are more likely to believe in the power of government to improve things.
The situation of job seekers is further complicated by what seems to be the unresolved issue, chronic to many administrations, as to whether hiring decisions in federal departments will be made by the cabinet secretaries themselves or the White House.