549 Nominations

I have come up with about a dozen or so separate topics I want to address regarding the new administration.  I have not drilled deep into the majority of them yet and, after the necessary research, some may disappear because they turned out to be only perceived issues, but others may arise.  

I did want to post on one of them right away because, having worked with the Federal Government for the past 27 years, I think I understand it a little better than some others may and, because it really needs to see the light of day. Here is what I put together on what I’m calling the 549 nominations issue:

549 nominations – This one actually has most of my attention, even though it’s not on many other people’s radar. There are 549 administration positions that require Senate confirmation. Yes, really, that number. For example, nearly every ambassador must be confirmed. And since the Exalted Cheeto chose to fire all the incumbent ambassadors effective one minute after he took the oath of office (by informing them he would accept their pro forma resignations and would not, as has been the custom, ask them to stay on until a replacement is selected), every single one of those positions currently is open (though three country ambassadors have been nominated at this point, along with the U.N. Representative, Nikki Haley).

Of these 549 appointees the Exalted Cheeto and his team have to nominate, 20 are cabinet-level positions. Those are the ones everyone hears about.  And, of the 549, 14 have been confirmed, 20 others await confirmation.

The other 515 positions have not yet been named and are the real focus of this post. That they have not yet been named is important to keep in mind every time the Exalted Cheeto or his spokespeople claim the Democrats are obstructing the process. You cannot confirm someone who has not even been identified, let alone gathering and processing their background check and clearance information.

And the argument that delays in confirming a department secretary are the problem and, therefore the Democrats’ obstruction is still the root cause, also does not wash for several reasons. First, the nominee for each secretarial post could be identifying his or her team before he or she is confirmed. Especially when there is a Republican majority in the Senate, and confirmation is nearly assured, but it is true regardless. 

Second, among the 14 confirmed nominees are 12 secretaries and administrators: Tillerson, Pompeo, Mattis, DeVos, Price, Pruitt, McMahon, Kelly, Sessions, Chao, Shulkin, and Mnuchin (the 13th is Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the 14th is Nikki Haley as UN Ambassador). Yet here are the scorecards in each of those departments and administrations:

State (Tillerson) – 115 positions to fill (excluding himself, and only counting those that require Senate confirmation), 4 nominees have been announced, all of which are ambassadors (England, China, Israel, the UN). Again, Nikki Haley has been confirmed to the UN.  No nominees have been announced in any of the other 111 positions, despite Tillerson being confirmed February 1.

Defense (Mattis) – 52 positions for him to fill, 2 have been announced, Secretaries of the Air Force and Navy. Vincent Viola, withdrew as the nominee for Secretary of the Army and no replacement has been named, leaving 50 positions with no nominees despite his being in place since inauguration day.

Education (DeVos) – 14 positions, all of which have no nominees announced, though she was confirmed February 7.

HHS (Price) – 15 positions to fill, one announced for the Administrator for Medicare and Medicaid Services. He’s been in place since February 8.

Homeland Security (Kelly) – 15 positions, has only announced the nominee for Deputy Secretary, even though he was confirmed on inauguration day.

Justice (Sessions) – 26 positions, 3 nominees announced: Deputy AG, Associate AG, and Asst AG for the Office of the Legal Counsel. No nominees for any other positions, though he’s been in place since February 8.

Transportation (Chao) – 18 positions to fill, ZERO nominees, despite being confirmed on January 31.

Veterans’ Affairs (Shulkin) – 10 positions, and no nominees, though he was confirmed on February 13.

Treasury (Mnuchin) – 26 positions, no nominees announced, though, again, he was confirmed on February 13.

CIA (Pompeo) – Only two positions to fill, but he’s been in place since January 23rd and no names have been announced.

EPA (Pruitt)  12 positions, none announced, though he’s been in place since February 17.

Small Business Administration (McMahon) – She only has 3 positions to fill and was confirmed on February 14, but none have been named.

These 12 confirmed Secretaries and Administrators account for (including themselves) 320 of the 549 positions requiring senate confirmation, and of that 320, only 22 have been named. The rest of the positions are spread across various other smaller departments, agencies, and administrations (such as the FCC, FEC, or RRTA), and none of the small ones have even an administrator identified yet.

I will note that, in early 2013, when President Obama was starting his second term, the Administration encountered a large turnover of staff (fairly common at the beginning of a second term) that left a lot of positions, particularly high level positions, open for a longer-than-normal and longer-than-desirable period. In one case, the Commerce Secretary remained open for almost a year. In several cases at the State Department, there were Asst Secretaries for specific regions, such as the Middle East, that were unfilled.

Conversely, I also will note that the Republicans in the Senate were being obstructionist (yes, there’s that word again) with their confirmation hearings…in one example, a nominee for Treasury Secretary was asked 444 questions during his hearing (reportedly more than the 7 previous Treasury nominees combined). The EPA Administrator nominee was asked more than 1,000 questions.

But it is fair to say that the White House was slow to put forth nominees, often causing delays by the level of detail they went to on their pre-nomination vetting. And it is critical to note that the vast majority of positions were filled at this point. The administration was not starting from zero.

This large number of holes also ignores two other categories of staff. There are 472 presidential appointment positions that do not require confirmation, and about 75 SES (Senior Executive Service) positions that change with a new administration. Most of these positions also remain empty.

The incredible emptiness of this administration is going to create problems going forward, as there is no one there to do the work.

(photo credit – Washington Post 2017)