Jewish World Review April 24, 2001 / 2 Iyar 5761
Congress must fix slow
presidential appointee system
YOU can blame it on Linda Chavez, the Florida recount or the
FBI, but the fact is, nearly three months after President Bush's
inauguration, hardly anyone is at work in his sub-Cabinet.
At the Pentagon, for instance, Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld is in place along with his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz. Eight
other top officials have been named, but none has been
confirmed by the Senate, so they can't really function. And 37
other posts remain unfilled.
Rumsfeld, aides say, is frustrated. The same can be said of
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who is
home alone at the top of his department. Six of his top aides
have been selected, but only three have been officially
nominated and none has been confirmed.
In fact, at nine out of 14 Cabinet departments, only the
secretary is in place. The exceptions, besides Defense, are the
departments of State, Labor, Treasury and Veterans' Affairs.
As of last Friday, according to the Brookings Institution's
Presidential Appointee Initiative, of the 487 Senate-confirmable
posts Bush has to fill, only 29 have been filled by confirmation,
31 more have had people nominated and 94 have had people
named but not officially nominated.
Actually, according to Brookings scholar Paul Light, director of
PAI, Bush personnel chief Clay Johnson claims that 300 of the
487 have been selected by the President but haven't been
If that's true, Light said, this would be "a modern record for
presidential signoff." Still, it seems to take forever for a new
president to fill his government (nine months on average),and
the time is getting longer.
After 84 days in office, which Bush reached last Friday,
President Ronald Reagan had nominated 112 officials and 72 had
been confirmed in 1981. By that same period in 1993, President
Bill Clinton had nominated 70 officials and 42 had been
confirmed. Light doesn't have figures for Bush's father.
However, the 37-day Florida recount slowed down George W.
Bush's transition process. Comparing his record 124 days after
becoming president-elect, Bush's 60 nominations and 29
confirmations nearly tie Reagan's 58 nominations and 38
confirmations, and outstrips Clinton's 35 nominations and 26
Clinton was notorious for his inability to make decisions and for
the inefficiency of his first-term White House. Most scholars
rate Reagan's as the best recent transition. So Bush is not
doing badly by comparison.
What's more, Light noted, he's been handicapped by the FBI's
"tightening up" after being "embarrassed" by the media's (not
its) discovery that Bush's original choice for Labor secretary,
Linda Chavez, had employed an illegal immigrant.
The fundamental fact is that the entire presidential appointment
and nomination system is clogged by bureaucratic bottlenecks,
duplicative and intrusive forms and, ultimately, Senate delays in
Nominees are required to fill out four sets of forms - a White
House personal data questionnaire, the excruciating standard
form 86 used for FBI security clearances, the Office of
Government Ethics financial disclosure report and a separate
form required by Senate committees.
Regardless of whether appointees will have access to national
security information, form 86 requires them to list all the jobs
they've held and places they've lived over the past 15 years,
provide the name, address and phone number of an
acquaintance from every educational institution they've
attended since high school, and even the whereabouts of
In the computer age, form 86 must be filled out by hand or
typewriter. Then it takes the FBI an average of 40 days to
complete full field investigations on nominees, Light said. Senate
committees receive raw reports from the FBI, but then demand
their own forms, whose questions vary only slightly from the
According to Light, having been cleared for government service
in the past actually lengthens the delay because the FBI and
Senate staffers spend hours comparing forms in search of
"The perfect nominee is someone with no life, no interests, no
history," Light explained, "maybe an orphan who never married
and never worked - an assetless cipher."
This tedious system has been the subject of at least nine major
reform studies since 1985. Yet the length of time required to
process nominees has grown with each new administration.
Brookings' latest study, headed by former Sen. Nancy
Kassebaum Baker (R-Kan.) and former White House budget
director Franklin Raines, recommends simplifying forms, limiting
FBI investigations to security needs, reducing the number of
appointments a president makes, reviewing the multiple sets of
ethics rules governing appointees and shortening the Senate
At a hearing earlier this month, Senate Governmental Affairs
Chairman Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) promised that, this time,
the system will be reformed. We'll
JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments by clicking here.
04/20/01: Bush Won China Test, But Needs Shrewd Strategy
04/17/01: Congress Should Boost Bush Budget For Health Programs
04/10/01: McCain-Feingold: Mend it, don't end it
04/06/01: Newtie versus Dubya?
04/03/01: Coming soon: A battle royal over free trade
03/29/01: As economy wilts, is Bush too passive on early tax cuts?
03/27/01: Ex-Clinton Adviser Thinks Bush Needs More Upbeat 'Vision'
03/16/01: Cultural indicators improved during Clinton years. Why?
03/13/01: Nice talk aside, Bush team wants to win above all
03/08/01: Tax fight turns back to question of what's 'fair'
03/06/01: Bush and Congress should prepare for lean years
03/01/01: Bush needs group to promote ideas in Black America
02/26/01: Bush should talk about long-term budget challenges
02/22/01: AARP's agenda at odds with Bush priorities
02/20/01: When will Dems finally say Clinton is unfit leader?
02/14/01: McCain won't run against Bush again, just differ on issues
02/12/01: Is Joe Lieberman tilting left toward 2004?
02/07/01: The controversy starts: Bush orders HHS study of fetal, stem cell issues
02/05/01: Dems move toward bush on taxes, but ...
02/01/01: Bush should be open with press
01/30/01: Bush Should go for broke early on education
01/23/01: Clinton ain't going away, folks
01/19/01: Bush should try for legacy as 'Great Reconciler'
01/16/01: Left-Center Rift Re-emerges For Democratic Leaders
01/12/01: Clinton doing Bush no favors in Mideast
01/09/01: Bush and Democrats can deal
12/14/00: Will Daschle make it his business to get along with President Bush?
12/08/00: GOP is in danger of ruining record on medical research
11/27/00: Some fascinating stories about how and why people voted
11/22/00: GOP Survived health bullets, but one is left
11/20/00: Can next president and Hill deal?
11/15/00: With nation split, leaders must reach across party divide
11/07/00: The Envelope, Please:Bush Beats Gore, GOP Holds Hill
11/03/00: Parties appeal to two 'gospels'
11/01/00: Lurking in the shadows
10/26/00: What's Gore's Social Security plan?
10/18/00: While Bush, Gore debate surplus, Congress spends it
10/16/00: Two debates leave lots of questions
10/03/00: What questions should be debated?
09/28/00: Gore and Bush should prepare to lead
09/19/00: Bush let values issue slip away
08/25/00: Gore hands center to Bush
08/22/00: AlGore, look to future, not to Bubba
08/08/00: 2000 race could leave high road for low
08/03/00: Convention must point Bush to center
08/01/00: GOP Readies 'Debt Lockbox' As 2000 Strategy
07/27/00: Cheney adds heft to GOP ticket
07/25/00: Foreign, Defense Policy Deserves Full 2000 Debate
07/20/00: Truman Show: Gore Replays 1948, But Bush Isn't Dewey
07/18/00: Bush Must Fight Gore's Drug Plan As 'Bad Medicine'
07/13/00: Mexico's Election Supports U.S. Action On NAFTA, Bailout
07/10/00: Abortion is good for something --- just ask AlGore
07/06/00: Meet Steve Ricchetti, Bubba's secret weapon
06/30/00: AlGore is down, but is he out?
06/27/00: Social programs caught in election-year game of one-up
06/22/00: Congress Is Near Flunking a Test On School Reform
06/16/00: Doting on the grandparents
06/13/00: On Stem Cells, Bush Has Wrong Pro-Life Stance
06/08/00: Has Gore Caught Bush?
05/26/00: PNTR Vote Could Tell Which Party Fits 'New Economy'
05/23/00: The secret to winning the election: Economic programs
05/18/00: Gore should regroup
05/16/00: McCain's Support Is Tepid, But Lets Bush Focus on Gore
05/11/00: Voters need wonk training
05/09/00: Bush Could Score With Charge That Gore's Too Partisan
04/28/00: Reno's force aids Clinton, not Elian
04/25/00: Should Clinton be indicted?
04/24/00: Can Gore win on Bush tax cuts?
04/18/00: Levin's 'bridge' key to China trade?
04/11/00: Congress, U.S. Voters Still Aren't Ready For Campaign Reform
04/06/00: Bush, Gore Silent As Popular Culture Gets Ever Coarser
03/30/00: Is 2000 Like 1948, 1976 or 1960? Or Is This Unparalleled?
03/28/00: Will Bush, Gore Go for a Better Way To Pick Nominees?
03/23/00: Medicare cutbacks bleed hospitals
03/20/00: Chances Improve That China Trade Will Pass Congress
03/16/00: Lieberman as veep would help Gore
03/14/00: Can Bush, McCain Unite to Beat Gore?
03/09/00: Can GOP Forge Unity After Nasty McCain-Bush Race?
03/07/00: What accounts for McCain's excesses?
03/02/00: 'Debate' Proved Gore Is This Year's Best Gut-Fighter
02/29/00: Surprises! The 2000 GOP race is full of it
02/25/00: Voters want centrist in White House
02/23/00: Gore would hit McCain's record
02/15/00: Will negativity hurt McCain in S.C.?
02/10/00: How hard should Bush hit McCain?
02/08/00: Bush must retool his entire campaign
01/27/00: Could Gore beat Bush as Truman beat Dewey?
01/20/00: Big New Surplus Estimates Could Alter 2000 Politics
12/21/99: Bush improves, everyone panders
12/16/99: Prospects improve for campaign reform
12/14/99: Riots raise free trade as 2000 issue
12/10/99: Gore won GOP 'debate' in N.H.
12/07/99: Election pits Bush cuts vs. Medicare boost
12/03/99: Can race be a constructive issue in 2000?
11/19/99: White House race may be best in decades
11/16/99: Where is Bush on health care fight?
11/11/99: Will TV stop profiteering from politics?
11/09/99: Is GOP isolationist, or just partisan?
11/04/99: Gore, Bradley Run Opposite Races On Style, Substance
11/01/99: GOP, Clinton could reach deal swiftly
10/27/99: Bush to fight 'culture wars' -- positively
10/21/99: Porter, Mack: heroes on medical research
10/19/99: Gore scores among party big shots, but polls go South
10/14/99: Bush critiques could help GOP Congress
10/12/99: Congress can save health care from ruin
10/07/99: Will gun-control cause the GOP to shoot itself in the foot?
10/05/99: Gore moves: Desperate but necessary
10/01/99: Fox, Armstrong make case for NIH
09/28/99: Dems' race brightens Bush's chances
09/23/99: East Timor deflates `Clinton Doctrine'
09/21/99: Buchanan v. Bush? Yeah right
09/17/99: Candidates turn attention to poverty
09/15/99: Bush's education problem
09/09/99: Budget makes 2000 an `issues' election
09/07/99:Airport rage increases, with good reason
09/02/99: U.S. future up for grabs in 2000
08/31/99: U.S. Capitol needs visitor's center -- soon
08/24/99: Will 2000 be the year of the foreign crisis?
08/19/99: Neither party has upper hand for '99
08/17/99: Ford gets freedom medal one month early
08/12/99: There's time to catch Bush, say Gore aides
08/10/99: Rudy, Hillary try much-needed makeovers
08/09/99: GOP must launch new probe of Chinagate
08/02/99: Pols blow fiscal smoke on budget surplus
08/02/99: One campaign reform should pass: disclosure
07/27/99: Gore leads Bush in policy proposals