As we celebrate Asian and Pacific Heritage Month, it’s crucial to recognize the significant contributions made by Asian American and Pacific Islander Americans to our federal government. While there has been a notable rise in the representation of Asian American and Pacific Islander Americans in federal government roles in recent years, there remains room for further progress and development.  

Many Cabinet agencies have yet to see Asian American and Pacific Islander Americans in high-level roles. Important leaderships positions, such as president, have never been filled by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. This month, it is important to celebrate the contributions and historic firsts throughout history, knowing there is more progress to be made. 

In recognition of May as Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month, here is a list of prominent Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have served in the federal government. 

Daniel Kahikina Akaka – Senator from Hawaii

Akaka was elected to the House of Representatives in 1976 where he served seven consecutive terms. Akaka became the first U.S. senator of Native Hawaiian ancestry when he was appointed to the Senate in1990. During his long career in public service, he was an advocate for veterans and Native Hawaiian rights. Prior to his time in Congress, Akaka was a high school teacher and vice principal. From 1969 to 1971, he was the chief program planner for the Hawaii Department of Education.

Elaine Chao – Secretary of Labor and Secretary of Transportation

President George W. Bush appointed Chao to be secretary of Labor in 2001, making her the first Asian American woman and first Taiwanese American in U.S. history to be appointed to a Cabinet position. President Donald Trump later appointed Chao to be secretary of Transportation in 2017. Prior to holding those positions, Chao had been a successful businesswoman, the director of the Peace Corps and served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Tammy Duckworth – Senator from Illinois

Tammy Duckworth was elected to the Senate in 2016 following two terms representing Illinois in the House. of Representatives. Duckworth also served in the Army during the Iraq War and is a Purple Heart recipient. Prior to taking office, she was appointed to assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs by President Barack Obama in 2009.

Mervyn Dymally – Representative from California

Dymally served six terms in the House of Representatives, beginning in1981. His father was from Trinidad and his mother from India, making him the first person of mixed African and Indian descent to serve in Congress. Throughout his time in the House, he was an advocate for human rights and economic development worldwide. Following his retirement from public service, he worked as a foreign affairs consultant for Caribbean, African and Asian interests and was a professor at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.

Hiram Fong – Senator from Hawaii

In 1959, Fong was the first person of Chinese descent elected to Congress and the first Asian Pacific American elected to the Senate, where he served for nearly two decades. In 1964, he was the first Chinese American candidate for the presidency, and he is the only Republican to serve as the senator from Hawaii.

Kamala Harris – Vice President

Harris became the highest-ranking female official in U.S. history when she was elected vice president in 2020. Harris – whose mother was born in India – also became the first Asian American and African American vice president. Harris was the attorney general of California from 2011 to 2017 and a senator from California beginning in 2017.

Mazie Hirono – Senator from Hawaii

Hirono has been a senator from Hawaii since 2013. She was the first Asian American woman elected to the Senate and the first elected female senator from Hawaii. She was elected to the House in 2006. Hirono was born in Japan and was the only person of Asian ancestry serving in the Senate from 2013 until 2017.

Daniel Inouye – Senator from Hawaii

Inouye became the first Japanese American to serve in the House of Representatives in 1959 and the first Japanese American to serve in the Senate in 1962. He did not lose an election in 58 years. Prior to holding office, Inouye served in the Army during World War II and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart with Cluster.

Pramila Jayapal – Representative from Washington

Representing the state of Washington since 2017, Jayapal is the first Indian American to serve in the House. of Representatives. Her work throughout her career has focused on immigration, income inequality and global public health. She is currently a member of the House Judiciary Committee, the House Education and Workforce Committee and is the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Gary Locke – United States Secretary of Commerce

Locke was appointed as secretary of Commerce from 2009 to 2011 during the Obama administration. Prior to holding this position, he was elected as the governor of Washington State in 1997. He was the first Chinese American governor in U.S. history and was the first Asian American governor in the continental U.S. During his time as governor and secretary of Commerce, he focused on education, employment, trade, health care and human rights. He later served as the 10th ambassador to China from 2011 to 2014.

Chris Lu – Deputy Secretary of Labor

Lu was confirmed as deputy secretary of Labor under President Barack Obama in 2014, making him the second Asian American to hold such a position in a Cabinet department. From 2009 to 2013, Lu was assistant to the president and the White House cabinet secretary. He also co-chaired the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Lu is currently the representative to the U.N. for management and reform.

Spark Matsunaga – Senator from Hawaii

Matsunaga was a Japanese American congressman and senator for Hawaii. Throughout his time in Congress, he advocated for the bill that led to the creation of the U.S. Institute for Peace, legislation that created the position for the United States Poet Laureate and a measure to address the discrimination faced by Japanese Americans during the World War II interment. He was a member of the House Rules Committee. Prior to his career in public service, Matsunaga was a member of the Hawaii National Guard and a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army during WWII.

Norman Mineta – Secretary of Commerce and Secretary of Transportation

Appointed by President Bill Clinton in 2000 to be secretary of Commerce, Mineta was the first Asian American and Pacific Islander to be appointed to a Cabinet position. He was later appointed in 2001 by George W. Bush to be secretary of Transportation and went on to serve in this position for the longest amount of time in the department’s history.

Patsy Mink – Representative from Hawaii

Mink began her career in the Hawaii State Senate before later winning her 1964 campaign for the newly created second position for Hawaii in the House of Representatives. This made her the first Asian-American woman to serve in Congress and the first woman of color elected to the House. of Representatives. Throughout her time in Congress, Mink focused on gender and racial equality, affordable childcare and Title IX.

Pat Saiki – Administrator of the Small Business Administration

President George H. W. Bush appointed Pat Saiki to be administrator of the Small Business Administration in 1991. In 1986, Saiki was the first Republican elected to represent Hawaii in the House since it gained statehood.

Eric Shinseki – Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Eric Shinseki was President Barack Obama’s choice for secretary of Veterans Affairs in 2009, making him the first Asian American to serve in that position. Previously, Shinseki had a long career in the military, where he served as the 34th Army chief of staff and was the first Asian American four-star general. He served two tours during the Vietnam War for which he was awarded three Bronze Star Medals for valor and two Purple Hearts.


This blog post was authored by Meredith Boldman, a communications intern at the Partnership for Public Service

Given the incredible complexity of managing the federal government, new presidents have found outside think tanks and other organizations to be helpful partners as sources of expertise, personnel and broad perspectives.

The short-lived and hectic sprint of a campaign leaves little time for presidential candidates to master the details of the job. However, nongovernmental organizations hold reserves of institutional knowledge and can fill in gaps to help a new administration prepare for office.

Since 2008, the Center for Presidential Transition has been one of these groups. As a nonpartisan entity pursuing better government and stronger democracy, we provide resources to all presidential candidates preparing for a first or second term. We do not advise candidates on the substance of policies, only on best practices to enact them and create an effective, well-run administration.

Since standing up in 2008, the Center has supported  the leading presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle with resources such as the Presidential Transition Guide, Agency Transition Guide, and Ready to Govern content to prepare for their potential administrations. Other groups, including the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and the White House Transition Project, also provide nonpartisan analysis and resources. Nonpartisan organizations resist the partisanship that frames so much conversation about government and offer clear-eyed best practices for the most effective operation of the executive branch. 

Other groups help with the “what” of governing in addition to the “how.” Many of these organizations have a perspective, and any administration will gravitate to ones that align with their political goals. Previous presidents recruited personnel and policy from these groups to great effect.

For example, the Heritage Foundation produced its first “Mandate for Leadership” in 1981 and the Reagan administration implemented nearly two-thirds of its 2,000 policy recommendations, with Reagan crediting Heritage as a “vital force” in his presidency’s successes. Heritage released the ninth edition of its “Mandate for Leadership” in 2023.

Later, the Obama administration took into account the work of two newer think tanks, the Center for a New American Security and the Center for American Progress, both of which were founded by alumni of previous Democratic administrations. They adopted ideas and recruited personnel from these organizations: the Wall Street Journal called CNAS a “top farm team” for his administration and CAP was cited as “Obama’s idea factory.”

This election cycle, a few new groups are promoting both policies and transition planning. Recent headlines have made much of their existence, but these are not the first groups to prepare policy for a prospective administration.

Voters choose which specific path they wish the government to take, but the task of enacting campaign promises deserves significant and thoughtful preparation by candidates – both by an incumbent seeking re-election and by the challenger. No matter who wins the election, the public interest requires thoughtful advance planning on policy, personnel and management issues, and that all parties follow law and tradition to ensure a smooth and peaceful transfer of power.

Featured image: CBS’ Margaret Brennan and former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during the Center for Presidential Transition 2024 kickoff event.

This piece was originally published on the Partnership for Public Service’s blog, We the Partnership, on September 9, 2021.

By Carter Hirschhorn and Dan Hyman

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a tragedy that changed our country and the world. In 2004, a bipartisan commission investigating the attacks issued the “9/11 Commission Report,” which made 41 recommendations to prevent future terrorist attacks and strengthen our national security. One of the report’s most notable findings was that a delayed presidential transition in 2000 “hampered the new administration in identifying, recruiting, clearing, and obtaining Senate confirmation of key appointees.”

Importantly, this finding revealed our country’s flawed political appointment process and showed how slow Senate confirmations can imperil our national security. The commission’s report recommended several improvements to this process to ensure both our country’s safety – particularly during and in the immediate aftermath of a presidential transition – and continuity within government.

Appointment delays in 2001

The commission found that George W. Bush lacked key deputy Cabinet and subcabinet officials until the spring and summer of 2001, noting that “the new administration—like others before it—did not have its team on the job until at least six months after it took office,” or less than two months before 9/11. On the day of the attacks, only 57% of the top 123 Senate-confirmed positions were filled at the Pentagon, the Justice Department and the State Department combined, excluding ambassadors, U.S. marshals and attorneys. 

New legislation since 2001

In the aftermath of 9/11, new laws addressed several recommendations highlighted in the “9/11 Commission Report.” The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 expedited security clearances for key national security positions, recommended that administrations submit nominations for national security positions by Inauguration Day and encouraged the full Senate to vote on these positions within 30 days of nomination.

The Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act of 2010 provided additional pre-election services to presidential candidates and the incumbent administration, enabling them to better prepare for a transfer of power or a second term, and to more quickly nominate key officials. The Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011 also reduced the overall number of Senate-confirmed positions by 163 in an attempt to free up more time for the Senate to confirm higher-level, policy-making roles.

Key areas for improvement in 2021

Despite these advances, the Senate confirmation process takes longer than ever; and vacancies in key Senate-confirmed positions continue to increase.  For example, the Partnership’s latest report, Unconfirmed: Why reducing the number of Senate-confirmed positions can make government more effective, revealed that the number of positions requiring Senate confirmation has grown more than 50% from 1960. Partly for this reason, several positions critical to our safety and national security remain unfilled more than seven months after President Biden’s inauguration. These positions include the assistant secretary for homeland defense and global security at the Defense Department, the assistant secretary for intelligence and research at the State Department, and the assistant attorney general for the national security division at the Justice Department.[1]

The fateful morning of Sept. 11 and the subsequent 9/11 Commission Report revealed our need for a more efficient Senate confirmation process. Accelerating this process and reducing the number of Senate-confirmed positions would strengthen our government’s ability to protect the nation and serve the public. To build a better government and a stronger democracy, we must efficiently fill vital leadership roles throughout the federal workforce. That can only happen if we continue to improve the way presidential appointments are made.


[1] As of Wednesday, September 8 the Senate had confirmed Biden nominees for 27% of the top 139 positions at the Pentagon, Justice and State departments combined – excluding ambassadors, U.S. marshals and attorneys.

By Emma Jones and Christina Condreay

For most people, the only way to find out who is serving in the top decision-making positions in government is to reference a document called the Plum Book. Unfortunately, this document has significant procedural and factual problems and could be greatly improved.

The Plum Book remains the best source of valuable information about our senior government leaders, including names, position titles, salary information and term expiration dates. It contains information on more than 4,000 political appointees – about 1,200 of whom are subject to Senate confirmation – along with thousands of other jobs filled by senior career officials in the federal civil service.

However, the Plum Book is only published every four years. This means that information about some positions is outdated before it is even made available to the public. Even more problematic, the most recent version of the Plum Book contains numerous errors and shortcomings. Here are three of the biggest mistakes in the latest Plum Book published on Dec. 1, 2020:

1. Some agencies are omitted without explanation.

The following agencies appear in the 2016 Plum Book, but not in the 2020 edition. These organizations remain active and are funded. Combined, they have about a dozen presidentially appointed positions requiring Senate confirmation and between 60 and 100 positions not requiring Senate confirmation.

2. The Plum Book is missing positions.

Other agencies appear in the 2020 Plum Book, but are missing key positions. Agencies with incomplete position totals include the National Endowment for the Arts, the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and the United States Postal Service. Scholars at Vanderbilt University have identified additional positions that were missing from both the 2016 and 2020 Plum Books. In total, hundreds of positions are not included in the 2020 Plum Book.

3. The appendix does not match the rest of the document.

The 2020 Plum Book contains appointment information for 170 agencies, while Appendix 1 provides summary counts for 158 distinct organizations. The 12 agencies excluded from the appendix include four legislative branch agencies and the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation. Additionally, the last six agencies listed alphabetically in the Plum Book are also missing from the appendix in addition to part of the White House that employs 82 people.

The 2020 Plum Book also only counts filled positions in the Senior Executive Service, a change from previous editions. This means that roughly 1,100 vacant positions out of about 8,000 of the government’s senior executives are not counted in the agency position totals listed in the appendix.


Since the Plum Book is only updated every four years, these mistakes could remain uncorrected until 2024. The Plum Book also does not include supporting methodological information or documentation of any changes made from previous editions or explanations for omissions. But this is not the first time it has been filled with errors.

Fortunately, there are several fundamental improvements that would make the Plum Book more useful. First, the information should be updated as close to real-time as possible. Second, errors should be fixed as soon as they are caught. Third, while the Plum Book is available online as a PDF and through a few other options, it should be available in a more downloadable and machine-readable format. Fourth, providing data based on the self-identified demographic information of individuals holding positions listed in the Plum Book would help shed light on how well the government is doing in attracting and retaining a diverse workforce. Proposed legislation called the PLUM Act would accomplish all these objectives.

These improvements would bring increased transparency and accountability to the federal government by helping ensure the American people know who is serving in top decision-making positions. In addition, the PLUM Act would provide timely information on Senate-confirmed positions and whether they are vacant or filled by an acting official, providing transparency and reinforcing accountability under the Vacancies Act. On June 29, 2021, the PLUM Act was reported out of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Congress should pass the PLUM Act to modernize the Plum Book and prevent major mistakes from occurring in future editions of a critically important government document.

By Danna Subia

In recognition of May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, here is a list of prominent Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have served in the federal government.

Elaine Chao – Secretary of Labor and Secretary of Transportation

President George W. Bush appointed Chao to be secretary of Labor in 2001, making her the first Asian American woman and first Taiwanese American in U.S. history to be appointed to a Cabinet position. President Donald Trump later appointed Chao to be secretary of Transportation in 2017. Prior to holding those positions, Chao had been a successful businesswoman, the director of the Peace Corps and served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Hiram Fong – Senator from Hawaii

In 1959, Fong was the first person of Chinese descent elected to Congress and the first Asian Pacific American elected to the Senate, where he served for nearly two decades. In 1964, he was the first Chinese American candidate for the presidency, and he is the only Republican to serve as the senator from Hawaii.

Kamala Harris – Vice President

Harris became the highest-ranking female official in U.S. history when she was elected vice president in 2020. Harris – whose mother was born in India – also became the first Asian American and African American vice president. Harris was the attorney general of California from 2011 to 2017 and a senator from California beginning in 2017.

Mazie Hirono – Senator from Hawaii

Hirono has been a senator from Hawaii since 2013. She was the first Asian American woman elected to the Senate and the first elected female senator from Hawaii. She was elected to the House in 2006. Hirono was born in Japan and was the only person of Asian ancestry serving in the Senate from 2013 until 2017.

Daniel Inouye – Senator from Hawaii

Inouye became the first Japanese American to serve in the House of Representatives in 1959 and the first Japanese American to serve in the Senate in 1962. He did not lose an election in 58 years. Prior to holding office, Inouye served in the Army during World War II and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart with Cluster.

Chris Lu – Deputy Secretary of Labor

Lu was confirmed as deputy secretary of Labor under President Barack Obama in 2014, making him the second Asian American to hold such a position in a Cabinet department. From 2009 to 2013, Lu was assistant to the president and the White House cabinet secretary. He also co-chaired the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Lu is currently President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as the representative to the U.N. for management and reform.

Norman Mineta – Secretary of Transportation

Appointed by President Bill Clinton in 2000 to be secretary of Commerce, Mineta was the first Asian American and Pacific Islander to be appointed to a Cabinet position. He was later appointed in 2001 by George W. Bush to be secretary of Transportation and went on to serve in this position for the longest amount of time in the department’s history.

Pat Saiki – Administrator of the Small Business Administration

George H. W. Bush appointed Pat Saiki to be administrator of the Small Business Administration in 1991. In 1986, Saiki was the first Republican elected to represent Hawaii in the House since it gained statehood.

Eric Shinseki – Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Eric Shinseki was Obama’s choice for secretary of Veterans Affairs in 2009, making him the first Asian American to serve in that position. Previously, Shinseki had a long career in the military, where he served as the 34th chief of staff of the Army and was the first Asian American four-star general. He served two tours in the Vietnam War for which he was awarded three Bronze Star Medals for valor and two Purple Hearts.

By Carlos Galina

With the confirmation of Marty Walsh on March 22 to be secretary of Labor, the Senate approved all of President Joe Biden’s 15 Cabinet statutory nominations in 61 days. How does the U.S. appointment process compare with other countries? 

The answer is that the U.S. takes far longer to confirm its executive Cabinet than most other countries.

Among the 20 countries with the highest gross domestic product, the U.S. was the second slowest during the most recent transitions to a new head of state.

Besides having more positions requiring political appointments, the slow confirmation process is largely explained by the fact that the U.S. has a presidential form of government. The Constitution defines this form of governing as having an executive who serves as the head of the government and is separate from the legislative branch. Only six of the 20 largest economies have presidential systems. Many others have forms of government which give the executive more control over the selection of their Cabinet. For example, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom typically have a prepared list of Cabinet appointees ready for consideration on the day of the executive’s inauguration.

Filling a Cabinet is critical for any new administration to begin governing. Cabinets comprise the secretaries or ministers heading various departments, and executives benefit from having key leadership positions filled quickly in order to execute their agendas. Delays in getting essential staff in place can leave national security planning gaps while slowing policy implementation and personnel decisions.

In the U.S., the length of the confirmation process has varied in recent years. While the Senate took 61 days to confirm Biden’s Cabinet, Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama had all of their Cabinet secretaries confirmed in 97 and 98 days, respectively. President George W. Bush’s full Cabinet was confirmed in 12 days and President Bill Clinton’s in 50.

The confirmation of Cabinet officials is an important part of our system of checks and balances, and gives the legislative branch oversight power on parts of the executive branch. However, even when comparing the length of the American process with other countries that have a similar form of government – most of which are much smaller – the American confirmation process is among the longest.

Of the 30 countries with the highest GDP and presidential systems, only three took longer than the U.S. to fill their Cabinet in the most recent transitions to a new head of state: Nigeria (166 days), Liberia (108) and South Korea (96).

According to each country’s constitution, only six of those 30 countries with presidential systems require Cabinet confirmations by a national legislature. By contrast, other presidential systems provide presidents with full responsibility to select, appoint and have their executive team ready to govern on their first day in office. Countries such as Brazil, Chile and 14 others have Cabinets ready to serve on the day of the executive’s inauguration. Some of those countries give their legislatures confirmation authority for positions beyond the executive team, but unlike the U.S., they give the president full power to place most of their top officials.

According to David Lewis, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University, the U.S. has far more political appointees than any other developed democracy. Even though the U.S. confirmation system strengthens the system of checks and balances, delays in confirming Cabinet secretaries can influence staffing and the incoming administration’s capacity to govern. Congress and the White House should consider ways to make the entire confirmation process more efficient.

While the Constitution created a presidential system along with the Senate’s advice and consent role, and while legislative oversight of the president’s nominees is a critical democratic principle, today’s process is longer than almost anywhere else in the world. Steps should be taken to speed up the process so that incoming presidents have key leaders in place on or shortly after Inauguration Day to address the nation’s challenges.

The Center for Presidential Transition would like to thank Frieda Arenos of the National Democratic Institute for offering feedback for this report.

By Shannon Carroll

At the 100 day mark of his administration on April 29, President Joe Biden had outpaced his predecessors by appointing a record of nearly 1,500 officials to government positions not requiring Senate approval and by nominating 220 others for Senate confirmed jobs, a tribute to the extensive work that took place during the presidential transition.

But like his predecessors, Biden has been impeded by the slow Senate confirmation process that has kept him from getting key leaders in place across the government.

Of the roughly 1,200 positions that require Senate confirmation, the administration announced the selection of more individuals, and officially submitted more to the Senate, than prior administrations. In addition, the diversity and representation among the appointments is historic, and that includes the Cabinet.

However, only 44 of 220 appointments submitted to the Senate were confirmed by the 100th day. This compares to the 67 appointees confirmed by the 100th day during President Barack Obama’s administration, still a small number given the size of our government and importance of many of the unfilled positions.

Currently, for example, Biden nominees awaiting Senate approval include the deputy secretaries for the departments of Health and Human Services, Commerce, Labor, Agriculture and Education.

Unfortunately, no administration has been able to get more than about 5% of Senate confirmed jobs filled during the first 100 days. This is largely due to a Senate confirmation process that is slow and broken. In fact, the pace of Senate confirmations more than doubled between the Reagan and Trump administrations.

While the Constitution gives the Senate the responsibility to “advise and consent” on administration appointments, the sheer number of appointees requiring confirmation combined with institutional bottlenecks has created an untenable situation that is doing a disservice to the country.

The Partnership for Public Service, which is dedicated to making the federal government more effective, is eager to collaborate with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to improve the system, to reduce the number of political appointees, and ultimately to help presidents get qualified leaders on the job in a more timely manner so they may serve as stewards of our federal government

By Will Butler

On Jan. 20, the world watched as Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. Despite all of the challenges and turmoil surrounding the election results, Biden’s presidency got off to a fast start due to extensive transition planning that began in the spring of 2020, with more than 1,100 political appointees sworn in and nine executive orders signed during his first few hours in office. The Biden team kicked off preparation for these activities nearly 10 months earlier, and the Partnership’s Center for Presidential Transition® provided crucial support throughout.

Our new report, entitled, “Looking Back: The Center for Presidential Transition’s Pivotal Role in the 2020-21 Trump to Biden Transfer of Power,” details how the Center aided the Biden team’s efforts. As the go-to expert on transition planning efforts since 2008, the Center shared key insights, historical documents, access to subject-matter experts and extensive research on nearly every key transition topic and workstream.

The Center also collaborated with the Trump White House to support their dual role: planning for a second term and executing their statutory duties as the incumbent administration in case there was a transfer of power. The Center supported career agency transition officials across the federal government, worked with Congress to make policies and processes, and created Ready to Serve, a comprehensive resource for those looking to serve as a political appointee.

In total, the Center created over 1,000 pages of new resources and provided various transition stakeholders with more than 150 historical documents. The Center connected nearly 200 subject-matter experts to share their advice with the Biden transition team, the Trump administration and career agency officials. The retrospective report offers an in-depth look at the pivotal support the Center provided—from laying the groundwork with the Biden and Trump teams almost a year ago to preparing prospective political appointees in recent months—and its role as the go-to resource for nonpartisan counsel and support for presidential transitions.

Read the full report here.

Last updated April 30, 2021 at 8:00 a.m.

Presidents are responsible for about 4,000 political appointments, about 1,200 of which require Senate confirmation. This blog includes a comparison of how Biden’s pace of appointments and confirmations compares with the previous three presidents.

This table provides the number of nominations submitted to and confirmed by the Senate for positions in the executive, legislative and judicial branches on key dates early in an administration. Nominations for concurrent positions, like the ambassador to the General Assembly of the United Nations and the representative of the United States in the United Nations Security Council are counted as a single nomination.

For a detailed list of many key nominees and their statuses, see the Biden Political Appointee Tracker which is updated daily by the Partnership for Public Service and The Washington Post.

Nominations and confirmations by key dates

By Jaqlyn Alderete and Christina Condreay

Nominees seeking confirmation by the Senate to fill a presidentially-appointed position face a long and complex process. Each must contend with detailed vetting, background investigations, public scrutiny and challenging questions from the Senate. While the overwhelming majority of nominations are successful, withdrawals have occurred for every recent administration.   

Of the more than 9,500 nominations Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump submitted, 77% were eventually confirmed. Another 19% were “returned” by the Senate, meaning they never received a vote before a Senate recess or by the end of the calendar year. Some of those returned nominations were resubmitted and confirmed at a later date. Finally, 4% were withdrawn by the president. For the last three presidents, that totaled 335 nominations for an average of about 17 a year.

While these withdrawals make up a small percentage of presidential nominations, they often receive significant media attention and consume time and resources for the White House, which must find another candidate, and the Senate, which must take up more of its limited time to consider someone new. More than two-thirds of those withdrawn happen soon after they are submitted to the Senate and prior to receiving a committee hearing.

When are nominations withdrawn?

In recent years, a handful of nominations have been announced, but never sent to the Senate.For example, Bush announced Linda Chavez as his nominee for secretary of Labor and Obama announced Judd Gregg for secretary of Commerce, but neither individual was officially submitted for consideration. However, instances like these are uncommon.

An analysis by the Center for Presidential Transition® of the 335 withdrawn nominations submitted by Bush, Obama and Trump found most are abandoned early in the Senate confirmation process.

The analysis found that of the withdrawn nominations:

Why are nominations withdrawn?

To understand the reasons nominations were withdrawn, the Center analyzed a subset of 193 withdrawals for positions within 24 key agencies. Of those:

The president’s Cabinet usually gets confirmed with little opposition, but it is inevitable that nominees run into problems as a result of the Senate’s advice and consent role.