I’ve been mulling over what Dr. Paul Light advocated last week when he opined on the broken presidential nomination and appointment process at an event hosted by the National Academy for Public Administration. Though I wrote about this topic in an earlier blog, I think, given its importance for the next administration, it is a subject worth revisiting in a bit more detail: getting this right is critical for either candidate.
Last month, a Washington Post article described how half of the top 600 jobs in Washington are already vacant. Recruiting and appointing that number of people in the waning days of the Bush Administration seems unlikely. When paired with another statistic – that it took on average 8.5 months to confirm new appointees at the beginning of the Bush Administration – it becomes clear that the prospects for any continuity in leadership in government seems dicey, no matter who’s president.
Reduce the Number of Appointees?
One of Dr. Light’s key suggestions is to reduce the number of appointees. He has carefully documented the growth in the number of appointees over the past few generations. While reducing their number may be an ideal, it seems impractical given the institutional forces that generate the increasing number of appointees, especially those that are Presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed (called “PAS” positions by insiders). There are about 1,100 of these positions that are full-time jobs. The White House office of presidential personnel is typically reluctant to reduce its own scope of authority. For example, during the Clinton Administration, it blocked an effort to convert U.S. marshals to career civil service positions, even though there was professional consensus that it would be better to fill these jobs with civil servants with appropriate law-enforcement experience. In addition, Senators like the ability to hold individuals accountable via the appointment process. A recent example in a pending bill is a provision creating a director of operational energy plans and programs” in the Defense Department who will oversee DOD’s energy requirements.
So what do we do? A first step is to understand what’s been done to date to attempt to fix the process, if it is not politically possible to reduce the number of appointees.
Much Research Little Action…
I surveyed some recent reform efforts focusing on the nomination and confirmation process. My research confirmed plenty of studies, a host of recommendations, and even legislation drafted to do it, but little action. In 2001, Dr. Alvin Felzenberg wrote a piece for The Brookings Institution describing the recommendations of the six most recent commissions.
The best time to attempt to reform, according to experts, is before an election when both candidates have a stake in being able to recruit and quickly fill vacancies. That’s why Dr. Light said that the two candidates – who are both sitting senators – should act on legislation before their respective conventions distract them from spending time on this. Former Senator Tom Daschle, who attended Light’s presentation, seemed to be supportive, as well.
In my next posting, I will shed more light on what exactly is broken and outline in more detail what’s been proposed to fix it….