Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

Obama Appointees: Not Yet Halfway There

August 24, 2009

“Seven months into his presidency, fewer than half of his top appointees are in place advancing his agenda,” notes Peter Baker in a New York Times story, “Obama’s Team Is Lacking Most of Its Top Players.”

He goes on to say: “Of more than 500 senior policymaking positions requiring Senate confirmation, just 43 percent have been filled. . . . ”  He notes that Obama is trying to fix the financial markets but has no assistant secretary for financial markets.  He is fighting two wars but has no secretary of the Army, and is holding a summit on nuclear nonproliferation but has no assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation.

Dr. Terry Sullivan, executive director of the White House Transition Project, told Baker “If you are running G.M. without half your senior executives in place, are you worried? I’d say your stockholders would be going nuts.”

Baker also describes how there is more progress in putting officials in place than in other recent administrations and how the finger-pointing for the slow pace is “being freely passed around” between the executive and legislative branches.  The White House personnel office offers a higher count of appointees; other sources (such as the Washington Post’s Head Count website) offer lower counts, depending on what positions are included or excluded from the counting.

In a separate story, Chris Dorobek describes how the confirmation of Martha Johnson as administrator of the General Services Administration is being held up in the Senate.  He offers several reasons that are bipartisan in nature:  Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) is mad at GSA for discouraging government conferences in resort locations, like his home state city of Las Vegas, and Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) is blocking action because he wants a federal office building built in Kansas City. . . . meanwhile GSA has no top leader while the agency is facing an historic challenge to effectively manage  a 1,100 percent increase in its spending for the coming year under the Recovery Act.


Staffing Progress in the Obama Administration

March 13, 2009

Media reports seem to be focusing on the consequences of a sluggish appointment process.  Just this morning, the Washington Post highlighted another potential appointee withdrawing his name for consideration.  And a couple days ago, Tom Friedman’s column in the New York Times derided the process.


While it seems the appointment process has slowed down, when viewed in retrospect, the appointments of new senior officials isn’t that far off from the historical trend.  Bottom line:  it’s always been slow.


In fact, there seems to be a far quicker staffing of the senior appointments just below the level requiring Senate confirmation.  The “non-career senior executive” ranks – which ranged from about 650-800 positions in past administrations – have been filling in very quickly.  These are executives who have the authority to get things done.  By the first week of March in 2001, the Bush Administration had appointed 5 non-career senior executives; at the same point in the Obama Administration, 183 have been appointed.


The Obama White House is taking pains to compare its progress against the past three presidents.  It shared a table last week showing the historical trend in the appointment process of (1) presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed positions (also called “PAS”); (2) non-career senior executives (also called “NC-SES”); and (3) Schedule C political appointees (those positions GS-15 and below) that oftentimes serve as liaisons, special assistants, and advisors.


The table shows that, as of the first week of March, Obama had appointed 545 political appointees (cumulatively) through the first week of March, compared to 408 for George W. Bush, 385 for Clinton, and 530 for George H.W. Bush, at the same points in their new administrations.


While this may seem comforting in some corners, it still is seen as baffling by foreign observers who can’t believe it will take a year before there is a functioning government in place for them to deal with!  As one foreign observer noted to me, “I can’t believe you’re the number one power in the world with this kind of staffing process!”

Bogged Down Appointment Process

March 4, 2009

As predicted months ago in earlier blogs, the appointments process is going slowly (see blog postings from 2007, 2008a, 2008b, 2008c).  The White House says that appointments are faster than previous administrations, though.  According to a Washington Post article, as of this morning, out of about 850 top appointments, 71 appointees have been named, 41 nominated, and 28 confirmed.  For perspective, President Bush had a total of 29 confirmed after his first 100 days in office.


There are some holdups as a result of Senate actions:  two science-related appointees are being held up over an unrelated issue involving Cuba.  But most of the holdups are occurring in the executive-branch vetting process.  According to The Hill, “Obama Tightens Appointments After Gaffes.”   And it has!  The Washington Post article says that only 6 nominations went forward in February because of several nominations that ran into trouble.

As the Washington Post article describes: “People who are offered a job for the roughly 800 executive posts that require Senate confirmation receive an e-mail from the White House a day later congratulating them and instructing them to fill out three long forms: a comprehensive FBI questionnaire; a Form 278 from the Office of Government Ethics; and a list of questions from the relevant Senate committees. . . .

“The nominees are then questioned by a team of committee investigators led by former IRS agents hired by the Senate Finance Committee to perform what some describe as the equivalent of a full-fledged IRS audit before their hearings can be scheduled. . . .

“One nominee was asked about a $13 receipt. Another described the vetting as particularly intense, saying an FBI agent spent weeks conducting an investigation dating back 15 or 20 years, talking to the appointee’s friends, neighbors and people he served with on nonprofit boards. But the nominee understands why the process demands such scrutiny.”

The concern, according to Peter Baker in a New York Times story, “Obama Team Has Billions to Spend, But Few Ready to Do It,” is that policymakers are not yet in place in departments and agencies.  Government Executive writer, Robert Brodsky, says agencies are moving ahead, appointing temporary officials to lead the implementation of the stimulus bill.

The Boston Globe in “Vacancies Abound in Crucial US Posts,” quoted Michael Casserly, executive director of Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based coalition of the nation’s largest urban public school systems, as saying: “The fact that the current staff has added responsibilities certainly puts more pressure on them, but they seem to be rising to the occasion,” . . .  “I’m not worried about it at the moment. If the same situation existed in six months, I probably would be worried.”

Participatory Democracy

December 31, 2008

There has been much speculation in the media about President Obama using direct participatory democracy an important element of how he and his agency leaders govern.


Three recent articles, one in the New York Times one in the Washington Post, and one by the National Journal, outline some of the steps already taken and offer some insights on possible next steps.


The first, by New York Times’ Helene Cooper, “The Direct Approach,” where she notes that “President-elect Barack Obama says that he wants to make his administration more responsive to the American people. To that end, his aides are introducing a host of YouTube and other efforts aimed at bypassing the media and communicating directly with voters.”  The article notes that the Bush Administration piloted some “by-pass the press” approaches, such as blogs in the State Department, and that the Obama transition is testing ways to allow direct citizen questions.


The second, by Washington Post’s Jose Antonio Vargas, “e-Hail to the Chief,” focuses on the use of the web in governing (only the Washington Post can publish an article on governing and place it in its “Style” section of the paper!).  In an interview with an active on-line Obama supporter, Vargas was told:  “Well, people are still fired up and ready to go. . . . What’s next?”  With this kind of expectation, Vargas notes there might be a rough transition from the campaign’s, to the transition’s, to  online social networking is designed to foster a community. For that approach to be effective, can’t just push information out — it has to pull content in, too. And once it does so, the administration will have to decide whether, when and how to incorporate those voices into its decision-making process.”


There are experiments by the transition’s, encouraging comments on healthcare reform (with over 3,500 received), encouraging the submission of questions (with over 20,000 participants), and the outreach by the campaign’s encouraging its 13 million members to participate in self-organized house meetings and report back – with more than 4,200 meetings held in 2,000 communities.


The third, by National Journal’s David Herbert, “Obama Voters Fired Up, Ready to Go (Online),” summarizes a new report out by the Pew Internet and American Life Project on post-election voter engagement.  In it, he says: “The report also found that not only are Democrats more politically active online than Republicans, but they expect more outreach from their candidates. Among those who use social networking sites, 37 percent of Obama voters expect to be contacted through those sites by the president-elect. . . “


There have been similar articles in other forums, such as TechPresident, that have also offered their insights.  More will follow, I’m sure, in coming weeks. The real test will be:  what happens after January 20th when the innovators have to begin following federal government rules?

Editorials on Transition

July 18, 2008

Transition planning is starting to creep into the mainstream media.  In the past couple of days there were two thoughtful op-eds on the need to get it right.


The first, by Jamie Gorelick and Slade Gorton, was in the New York Times:  Between Presidents, A Dangerous Gap.”  The authors were both members of the bipartisan 9-11 Commission and their advice to both candidates was to get started now.  They said “the deeply flawed presidential transition of 2000 and 2001 created a dangerous period of vulnerability.”  They offer five steps to getting it right, concluding: “Our presidential transition process needs to adjust to the threats the United States faces.”


The second, by Max Stier and Gary Ginsburg, was in the Wall Street Journal:  It’s Not Too Soon to Plan the Transition.”  Stier is the president of the Partnership for Public Service, a non-profit dedicated to improving government, and Ginsberg served in the 1992 Clinton transition.  Like Gorelick and Gorton, they observe:  “The key to an effective transition is getting your appointees in place and up to speed as quickly as possible.”  They too offer several pointers for getting it right.


Are the candidates listening?  I don’t know, but I found the Stier-Ginsburg article on candidate Obama’s website!