Center Blog

Presidential Appointments Update

The Senate and the Administration
Should Speed Up the Confirmation Process

August 02, 2017

Natalie Hodgkiss Research and Casey Dennison Center for Presidential Transition

President Trump is lagging behind his predecessors in nominating political appointees for high-level jobs across the government. At the same time, the Senate has been slow to act on many of the nominations that have been submitted, and has delayed roll call votes on 35 of the 50 individuals who have been confirmed so far. Let’s take a look at the numbers as of July 31, 2017.

President Nominated Confirmed "Failed" Average Days to Confirm
Trump 255 51 6 46
Obama 390 228 8 38
W. Bush 350 208 3 34
Clinton 290 214 4 29
H.W. Bush 283 162 1 32

Source: (Data as of 7/31/2017)
Note: Judiciary and non-civilian positions are excluded. Additionally, it is important to know that the “confirmed” and “failed” are part of the nomination count, and are not a separate entity.

Nominations by Senate Committees

Committee # Referred # Reported Out # Confirmed
Foreign Relations 48 16 9
The Judiciary 40 7 5
Armed Services 26 7 7
Banking, Housing, Urban Affairs 23 9 4
Finance 23 5 4
Commerce, Science, Technology 20 3 3
Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions 18 2 3
Energy and Natural Resources 13 3 2
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs 12 4 4
Intelligence 7 3 3
Floor 6 - -
Environment and Public Works 6 2 2
Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry 7 1 1
Veterans Affairs 3 3 1
Small Business and Entrepreneurship 2 1 1
Budget 2 1 1

Notes: We exclude judicial positions from our counts. Nominations that were sent to two committees are counted in the counts of both committees.

After a brief slowdown of nominations following the initial January rush, President Trump picked up the pace by nominating 125 people in May and June. The confirmations line represents the months in which nominees were confirmed. Data as of July 31, 2017.

Regardless of partisan politics, our government needs appointed political leaders at the departments and agencies to make decisions on a wide range of issues, from protecting public health and delivering social services to maintaining our national and economic security.

At a minimum, the Partnership for Public Service believes the top 400 of the roughly 1,100 politically appointed positions requiring Senate confirmation should be filled by the August congressional recess, a goal that will not be met this year. This means the Trump administration must redouble its efforts in the weeks and months ahead to nominate qualified candidates for critical positions, and work closely with the Senate to speed those nominees through the confirmation process.

Reforms for the Future

One major obstacle to a smooth and efficient appointments process is the extensive paperwork nominees must complete.

In 2012, President Obama signed the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011, eliminating the need to obtain Senate confirmation for more than 160 executive branch position and creating the Working Group on Streamlining Paperwork for Executive Nominations. This bipartisan working group focused specifically on the complexities of the personal and financial information that is required, and made a number of recommendations for Congress and administration, most of which have not been implemented.

One recommendation called for modifications of the SF-86 Questionnaire for National Security Positions and the SF-86 Supplement and the Personal Data Statement to reduce duplicative, unnecessary or overly broad questions. The working group also recommended a shared form be adopted across Senate committees to facilitate faster vetting and reduce the administrative burden on both nominees and Senate staff. Another proposal called for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which oversees the second most nominations out of 17 Senate committees, to work with the Office of Government Ethics to identify appointees for whom the less comprehensive OGE-450 form would satisfy the committee’s needs. This would reduce the administrative burden on OGE agencies and individual nominees who are currently required as a matter of committee policy to complete form OGE-278.

While simplifying the personal and financial disclosure forms and embracing the goal of speeding the nomination process, the Partnership for Public Service also believes Congress should consider further reducing the number of nominations that require Senate confirmation. This would allow the Senate to concentrate its resources and calendar on the most crucial positions, and reduce the number of vacancies across the executive branch.

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