Streamlining the Confirmation Process Is Good for Everybody

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We members of a special bipartisan commission to help reform the federal appointments process support the enactment of the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act (S. 679). It will significantly improve the federal appointments process, which most agree needs to be reformed to better serve our country’s needs.

S. 679 will make it possible for a new administration to fill very early in its first year about 70 communications and operations positions that new department heads need working with them to get off to a fast start and to communicate and work effectively with Congress, the public, state and local governments, and federal employees.

These offices affect the success of senior officials and the departments themselves, but they “don’t wield power that affects the American people.”

The power wielders are the policymaking offices and the senior-most offices in charge of communication, interaction with the other branches of government and department operations, to whom the subject offices report.

S. 679 will create more time and capacity for the Senate to confirm or deny the appointment of senior-most operational and policymaking officials, whose qualifications clearly warrant Senate scrutiny.

S. 679 will create a working group to develop a plan for improving the manner and speed of which background data is collected from potential nominees. The FBI, Office of Government Ethics and the Senate can receive a nominee’s information faster and begin his or her vetting sooner in the process, and the unnecessary data-gathering burden on the nominees can be significantly reduced.

Concern has been expressed that each time Congress removes the Senate from a role in the appointment of a federal office, the institutional influence of the Senate diminishes.

Fact: The Senate has untold ways to influence every government process. The Senate can help set high standards for government functions and programs and use hearings, Government Accountability Office reports and requested reports to Congress to help hold the responsible offices accountable for performing to expectation, regardless of whether the appointed persons in those offices are confirmed by the Senate.

Concern has been expressed that Congress doesn’t have the power to regulate the manner in which a president decides whom to nominate to federal office.

Fact: Senators are calling on the executive branch to develop a plan to speed up the process by which they get nominees’ background information, so they can begin their vetting process sooner and increase their capacity to confirm nominees. And Congress is not trying to regulate what use a president makes of an applicant’s background information in deciding whom to nominate.

Concern has been expressed that the stature of an appointed position is diminished if it no longer requires Senate confirmation and that this status reduction can make it more difficult to attract highly qualified candidates.

Fact: Some of the types of appointed positions for which Senate confirmation is no longer recommended are currently Senate-confirmed in some agencies and not Senate-confirmed in other agencies. There is no evidence that those appointees requiring Senate confirmation are more qualified and talented than those with the same job at other agencies not requiring Senate confirmation.

Concern has been expressed that the background of every political nominee be investigated by the FBI.

Fact: Every political appointee, Senate-confirmed or not, receives a full FBI background check.

We members of the Aspen Institute Commission to Reform the Appointments Process support the enactment of this bill: Bill Frist, co-chairman and former Senate Majority Leader; Chuck Robb, co-chairman and  former Senator; Mack McLarty, co-chairman and former White House chief of staff; Clay Johnson, co-chairman, former director of the Presidential Personnel Office and deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget;  Len Downie, Weil Family professor of journalism, Arizona State University; Bob Edgar, president and CEO, Common Cause;  Mickey Edwards, former Member of Congress and director of the Aspen Institute-Rodel Fellowships in Public Leadership;  Susan Eisenhower, president of the Eisenhower Group Inc.; Tom Korologos, former ambassador to Belgium and senior counselor, Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad;  Sheila Krumholz, executive director, Center for Responsive Politics; John Podesta, president and CEO, Center for American Progress;  Roger Sant, regent of the Smithsonian Institution; Melanie Sloan, executive director, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington; Margaret Spellings, former secretary of Education; Terry Sullivan, Campbell Fellow in national affairs, Hoover Institution;  Nancy Tate, executive director, League of Women Voters of the United States; William Webster, former director, FBI and CIA; Walter Isaacson, ex-officio member and president of the Aspen Institute.

Note: This column originally appeared on the website of Roll Call, and is reprinted here with its permission.