People have been asking me why I’m still doing a transition blog: “Isn’t the transition over?” Well, no.
It’s five months into the Obama Administration and according to the Washington Post’s Head Count, only 23 percent (146) of the top 492 jobs have been filled. There’s yet to be an orientation of new incoming appointees, either. Just last week GSA identified the Hay Group to organize and run the orientation. This may not have been on the fast track in part because there wasn’t a critical mass of appointees in place to orient! And the President’s Management Council – largely comprised of departmental deputy secretaries – hasn’t convened yet (to my knowledge) because there isn’t a quorum of deputy secretaries.
When visitors from foreign government come through our office asking about the transition progress of the new Obama Administration, I try to explain this to them. They seem baffled. How can the U.S. Government be fighting two wars, address a major economic crisis, pursue healthcare reform, combat climate change, and have less than a quarter of its top government executives in place?
I explain how Don Gips, the head of the president’s selection and appointment process, and his deputy, David Jacobson, have now both been selected for appointments as ambassadors. These critical vacancies have the potential to slow the selection process.
I also explain how top level appointees need to be confirmed by the Senate. I also share with them how this process isn’t always based on assessing the qualifications of the appointees, either. For example, the hardcopy version of this week’s Federal Times notes that Senate floor votes on at least 25 nominees are being held up by some Republicans because they are miffed that the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Sonya Sotomayor is scheduled for mid-July, which is sooner than they would like. This hold up includes positions such as the chief lawyer for the State Department, an undersecretary for Homeland Security, and I guess Jeff Zients as well, whose nomination was voted out of committee a few days ago.
I get a blank look from these foreign visitors. I just shrug. I can’t explain it either! But they better understand why more power and authority is being centralized in the White House, where most appointees do not need to be confirmed. There, positions have been filled quickly and they are able to move forward on the president’s agenda.
Tags: David Jacobson, Don Gips, Federal Times, Hay Group, Homeland Security, Jeffrey Zients, President's Management Council, presidential appointee orientation, Presidential Appointees, Sonya Sotomayor, State Department, Washington Post