Legislation introduced this month by a bipartisan group of Senators would eliminate Senate confirmation for about 200 executive nominations, including two of the top federal jobs in juvenile justice and child welfare.
The bill is a more permanent extension of a gentlemen’s agreement reached at the beginning of the 112th Congress to move some nominees through without Senate confirmation. It is all an effort to alleviate the backlog of unfilled jobs that has plagued the past two presidents, partly because of the bottleneck of confirmation hearings.
“The American public is harmed when we are not able to get qualified people confirmed to positions in a timely manner,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who introduced the legislation with Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). The bill has the support of both party leaders in the Senate, Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
The senate confirmation process adds about 150 to 200 days to the overall hiring process, said Paul Light, a professor at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service who has tracked and studied the confirmation process for more than a decade.
“It’s slower than it’s ever been,” Light said. But he’s “not wild” about the bill because “many of these positions are extremely important and probably should not be removed from senate confirmation,” he said.
Shay Bilchik, former OJJDP and current Director for the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University agrees.
“As a candidate for the job, you don’t understand what it means to the field and the constituencies to have that direct oversight and committee in the U.S. Congress, so the field can weigh in in a very powerful way regarding who gets that position,” he said. “Once it becomes simply a political appointment you lose that visibility and that transparency.”
A better move, Light said, would be to eliminate certain classes of appointment altogether instead of subjectively creating a list of exemptions.
Chief among the youth-related slots that are included in the legislation: administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families (ACYF).
The ACYF job is held by Bryan Samuels. Samuels led Chicago’s child welfare system before becoming a top aide to Education Secretary Arne Duncan when he was CEO of Chicago Public Schools.
The OJJDP administrator has not been filled, more than 800 days after the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
Among the other youth-related posts that would be affected by the bill:
Department of Education:
Assistant Secretary for Legislation and Congressional Affairs, Department of Education
Commissioner – Rehabilitation Services Administration
Commissioner – Education Statistics
Members (15), National Board of Education Sciences
Department of Health and Human Services:
Commissioner, Administration for Native Americans
Corporation for National and Community Service
Managing Directors (two positions)
Department of Justice
Director, Bureau of Justice Statistics
Director, Bureau of Justice Assistance
Director, National Institute of Justice
Deputy Director, National Drug Control Policy
Deputy Director, Demand Reduction, National Drug Control Policy
Director, Office for Victims of Crime