WASHINGTON – The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Wednesday heard testimony in support of streamlining the nomination process of Presidential appointees, providing momentum to legislation expected to be introduced next week.
“We need to simplify and speed-up the nominations process,” Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., said, “because if we don’t, I fear we risk discouraging some of our nation’s most talented individuals from accepting nominations and leaving important positions unfilled.
“One idea today’s witnesses suggested is to standardize and centralize the forms and documentation required by both the Senate and White House so a nominee isn’t overwhelmed with often duplicative paperwork and information requests. And since we know there will be a flood of nominations with each new administration, maybe we should add temporary ‘surge’ workers to the White House Office of Presidential Personnel and the FBI to handle vetting and background checks more efficiently. Both ideas should be seriously considered.”
Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., said: “While we must deliver on our duty to provide Advice and Consent, reforms are needed to improve the effective operation of government. We all want the most qualified people to serve the President and the nation. We should, therefore, ensure that the process is not unnecessarily burdensome and that key leadership posts do not go unfilled for long stretches of time. Most of all, we need to reform the process so that good people whose talents and energy we need, do not become so discouraged that they give up their goal of serving the public.
Problems with the nomination process have long been the subject of Congressional attention. In 2001, the Committee, under the leadership of Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., held hearings on the presidential appointments process. Two years later, a bipartisan commission headed by Paul Volker recommended ways to speed up the nominations process. And in 2004, the 9/11 Commission said delays in getting a new government up and running pose a threat to national security and recommended ways to speed up the process.
Part of the problem is that the number of positions requiring confirmation has grown over time. When President Reagan took office, he had 295 key policy positions requiring confirmation. By the time President Obama was inaugurated, that number had grown to 422 key positions, plus another nearly 800 lesser positions that also required Senate confirmation. These numbers do not include judges, foreign service officers, or public health officials who also require Senate confirmation.
A study by the Congressional Research Service found that nominations delays are most pronounced at sub-cabinet level positions. Under President Reagan, key sub-cabinet nominees averaged 114 days from the President’s election to final confirmation. Under Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama those numbers jumped to 185, 198 and 195 respectively.
Lieberman and Collins have been working with Senators Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who are leading a Senate working group to reform the nominations process. Senators Schumer and Alexander, together with Lieberman, Collins, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, are expected to introduce legislation as early as next week that will eliminate Senate confirmation for several categories of Presidential appointments, enabling the Senate to concentrate on the more important, policy-making nominees.
Witnesses at the hearing included former Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget Clay Johnson; President and Chief Executive Officer of the Partnership for Public Service Max Stier; and former Senate Parliamentarian Robert B. Dove.