January 18, 2017
Kathryn Wilkinson Partnership for Public Service
Although a lame duck, President Obama has submitted 15 nominations for federal positions to the Senate since the 115th Congress convened on January 3.
While few if any of these individuals will be confirmed by the time Obama leaves office on Friday at noon, his decision to put the names forward for consideration at the very end of his tenure follows a pattern set by at least our last three presidents.
According to Congress.gov, Obama nominated four inspectors general (Department of Defense, Office of Personnel Management, Social Security Administration and National Security Agency), one career ambassador (Senegal), nine members of boards or commissions (Federal Communications Commission, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Export-Import Bank, Legal Services Corp. and the State Justice Institute) and one general counsel (Office of Special Counsel). Obama also submitted the names of three individuals for military promotions.
Thirteen of the 15 individuals were nominated by Obama in the previous Congress, but never confirmed by Senate. In total, almost 300 Obama nominees, including individuals for judgeships and military promotions, were pending when 114th Congress adjourned in December.
If the Senate does not act on the new list by the time Obama departs the White House, the nominations will need to be returned to President Trump following the inauguration, withdrawn by him, or left to die until the end of the 115th Congress.
In reviewing historical data from Congress.gov, the number of nominations submitted by presidents in the January of their departure has ebbed and flowed.
President George H.W. Bush submitted 21 nominations in January of 1993, nine of which were confirmed, two were withdrawn by President Bill Clinton, and ten were returned to the president by the Senate. Clinton submitted 62 nominations in January of 2001, all which were withdrawn by President George W. Bush. In January of 2009, Bush submitted just one nomination, which was withdrawn by Obama, but later resubmitted by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
Arguments can be made in favor of outgoing administrations submitting nominations in the January of their departure. In one way, the president carries the full constitutional authority to continue to submit nominations until his term is over, regardless of how that effects the incoming administration. On the other hand, there is an argument that these last minute nominees, if confirmed to fixed or indefinite term positions, would undermine the authority of the incoming president to choose his own team to run the government.