At Hearing, Portman Discusses Need to Improve Senate Confirmation Process, Ensure Better-Qualified Nominees

WASHINGTON, DC – This morning, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, delivered opening remarks highlighting the need to examine the current Senate confirmation process of presidentially appointed nominees in an effort to make the process more thorough and improve the quality of nominees. Portman highlighted a number of recent Biden administration nominees who were passed out of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on party-line votes who lacked the proper experience and skill set needed for the appointed position, as well as several nominees who were appointed to nonpartisan positions but have a history of partisan attacks against members of the Committee. Portman expressed any changes to the confirmation process need to incentivize administrations to send nominees before the Committee that are qualified for the position. 

A transcript of his opening statement can be found below and a video can be found here.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’m glad we’re having this hearing. I’ve had a chance to visit with the witnesses before us today, and we look forward to having another virtually. We spend a lot of time on vetting executive nominees, and it’s an important part of our constitutional duty, so we should. This committee, in particular, sees a lot of nominees. The process can be long and difficult. I understand that. I went through two confirmations myself, but there’s a reason for that. We want to make sure the nominees are well qualified, and well qualified to serve the American people. 

“Just in the past year, we’ve seen a number of troubling issues with nominees. Let me give you a few examples. The Controller of OMB’s Office of Federal Financial Management is required by statute to have a ‘demonstrated ability and practical experience in accounting, financial management, and financial systems; and extensive practical experience in financial management and large governmental or business entities.’ There’s a reason Congress put those criteria in place in the statute. But the President’s nominee for the position was unable to explain, in my view, and in the view of others on the Republican side of the dais here, how she met those qualifications or express a basic understanding of public accounting and financing. And her nomination passed out of the Committee, but it did so on a party-line vote and has yet to come before the Senate. 

“We also have received distressing allegations regarding the conduct of nominees to serve on the Federal Labor Relations Authority. We’ve asked the Inspector General to look into these allegations, so I don’t want to prejudge the issue, but they’re very serious allegations and a significant concern to me and many of my colleagues. And yet those nominees were on their way to this Committee before we insisted that we give the Inspector General a chance to look into it. Finally, multiple nominees for positions, such as a recent nominee to the Merit Systems Protection Board, which is intended to serve federal workers of all political persuasions and in fact, has a role to play there to be totally nonpartisan. Anyway, some of these nominees have tweeted extremely partisan statements. These statements have included, by the way, insults and partisan attacks against members of this Committee and also fellow members of the Senate, our colleagues, at a time when we should be trying our best to return to saner times when both parties can work together in a bipartisan fashion to serve all Americans. 

“So my point is, I guess it’s also about the quality of the nominees. It’s hard to imagine these nominees being put forward, by the way, if we still had a 60 vote threshold to end debate on a nomination. When the President’s party has control of the Senate and the nominee only needs a simple majority to be confirmed, the majority party tends to overlook serious concerns sometimes with these nominees’ qualifications, in my view, and that might otherwise not be true if bipartisan support were necessary. Maybe that’s what’s been happening recently. Whether that explains it entirely, I don’t know. But this concern applies to both parties, by the way.  The same was true during the previous administration with some nominees. 

“One can argue that this weakens congressional oversight because nominees who don’t have to get support from senators of the other party might think, even if wrongly, that they don’t need to be responsive to those senators’ concerns once they’re confirmed. And obviously, we’ve seen some of that on this Committee where we’ve asked for information we’ve not been able to receive on both sides of the aisle. We probably can’t turn the clock back. We are where we are. But I do think we need to continue to take our Advice and Consent role seriously. I understand some of our witnesses are going to propose reducing the number of Senate-confirmed positions and explore some ways to make the process more efficient so we can attract the best people to government. 

“By the way, the Chairman talked earlier about the arduous process. Let’s be honest. The arduous process includes the lengthy and sometimes bureaucratic pre-confirmation process at the executive branch as well. Anyway, I believe some of these reforms, including reducing the number of Senate-confirmed positions, have merit and could work if carefully crafted. I’m also glad that the witnesses will discuss the importance of having confirmed Inspectors General. Chairman Peters and I have led members of this Committee from both parties in sending letters to President Trump and now President Biden and urged them to nominate IGs expeditiously and offered the Committee’s assistance in identifying qualified candidates. But again, I just want to say at the outset that no matter what reforms we discuss, nominees need to be qualified. And it’s our role to vet these nominees. And we have to encourage the executive branch to send us nominees that do not have some of the concerns that I raised earlier. And the confirmation process needs to be thorough and nonpartisan or bipartisan, at least. 

“So I thank the witnesses for testifying. I look forward to hearing what they have to say about these issues and we look forward to engaging in a dialogue on them. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”