Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Following the last four presidential elections, the Partnership for Public Service and our Center for Presidential Transition have collected lessons learned on transition activities, which have helped inform four rounds of bipartisan laws passed to bring the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 in line with modern transition practices.

The transition law requires the General Services Administration to provide office space and other core support to presidents-elect and vice-presidents elect, as well as pre-election preparation space and support to major candidates. It also provides a framework for GSA, the White House and federal agencies to coordinate transition planning.

The updates to the law have had a profound impact in shifting the narrative around transition planning. Presidential candidates used to shy away from transition planning, worried that the public would see them as prematurely “measuring the drapes” of the Oval Office. Congress has helped change that perception and, through its oversight and legislation, has emphasized the importance of early planning by the transition teams of candidates as well as by agencies across the government. This tradition now continues with a new bill, the Agency Preparation for Transitions Act, sponsored by Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Highlights include:

While candidates in recent elections have begun transition planning well before the election, the roughly 75 days between Election Day and Inauguration Day is a crucial period for an incoming president, during which agencies begin to brief the transition team on major policy issues and decisions that will confront the incoming administration on Day One. The bipartisan work of Congress over the years in fine-tuning the Presidential Transition Act has made the run-up to

Inauguration Day much less complicated and has enabled presidents-elect to take maximum advantage of the short post-election transition period.

Even if a sitting president wins re-election, the transition planning is not all for naught. The Center’s research has shown a high turnover rate of appointees as presidents move from a first to a second term. As first-term presidents plan for a second term, the briefing materials prepared by agencies are valuable alike to incoming appointees of a new president and for a second-term president. Under either scenario, the Presidential Transition Act allows the winner of the election an opportunity to heed Ben Franklin’s advice and prepare for success.

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 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 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.

By Paul Hitlin and Christina Condreay

March 10th marked President Joe Biden’s first 50 days in the White House. One of the main tasks for any new president is to fill approximately 1,250 positions in the federal government that require Senate confirmation. Biden has submitted more nominations than his recent predecessors at a comparable time, but the Senate has confirmed fewer of those nominees.

Through his 50 days in office, Biden officially nominated 57 people for Senate confirmed positions. That is more than each of the previous three presidents. Obama nominated almost as many with 55. However, the Senate has only confirmed 17 of Biden’s picks. Each of the three previous presidents had more nominees confirmed, although President Donald Trump had only one more with 18.

There are multiple reasons behind the Senate’s slower pace. The Jan. 5 runoff election in Georgia, which decided party control of the Senate, was certainly a contributing factor. So was the second impeachment trial of Trump, the prolonged negotiation over how power would be shared in an evenly divided Senate, and a variety of other political factors. Regardless, the Senate has an obligation to act quickly to ensure that our government has qualified and accountable leadership in place, especially during times of crisis.

For current information on the status of Biden’s nominations and Senate actions, visit the Biden Political Appointee Tracker which is maintained by The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service.

Editorial credit: Andrea Izzotti /

By Paul Hitlin

The withdrawal of Neera Tanden’s nomination to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget has left President Joe Biden with a challenge faced by the previous five presidents – an unsuccessful Cabinet-level nomination early in their tenure. 

Biden becomes the sixth president in a row who has notched at least one unsuccessful Cabinet-level nomination by the end of their first two months in office. Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Donald Trump each had one, while President Barack Obama had three.

The large majority of early Cabinet nominations are confirmed. The three presidents preceding Biden – George W. Bush, Obama and Trump – announced 59 nominations combined for Cabinet-level positions within two months of taking office. Of those, 54 were approved by the Senate and five were unsuccessful.

The few who did not succeed received significant attention. For example, Trump’s initial secretary of Labor nominee Andrew Puzder was withdrawn before a Senate hearing due to concerns over financial issues and personal conduct. Tom Daschle, Obama’s first pick for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, withdrew before a hearing due to a widely-covered tax controversy. The controversy over the hiring of undocumented immigrants for Clinton’s first attorney general nominee, Zoë Baird, was so widely covered it earned the moniker “Nannygate.” Eight years later, a similar controversy derailed George W. Bush’s first nominee for Labor secretary, Linda Chavez.

As with Tanden, most unsuccessful nominees are withdrawn prior to a Senate vote when it becomes apparent there is not enough support for confirmation. Administrations typically anticipate a candidate cannot win in the Senate and withdraw the nomination before a failed vote takes place. In fact, only one Cabinet nominee has been rejected in a Senate floor vote in the last 60 years – George H. W. Bush’s nominee for secretary of Defense, John Tower, in 1989.

In some instances, presidents have withdrawn nominations before the paperwork is officially submitted to the Senate. Of the five early Cabinet nominees named by George W. Bush, Obama and Trump who did not get confirmed, three were never actually received by the Senate.

As in the case of Tanden, failed nominations represent a temporary setback for the administration, unleash political jockeying among those promoting replacement candidates, and leave a department or agency without a Senate-confirmed leader. In this case, the Biden administration will have to proceed with its preparation of a new budget and be delayed in crafting a new management agenda without the head of OMB in place.  

While this process creates complications for a president, it is one envisioned by the framers when they gave the Senate its advise and consent role on presidential nominations. Like other presidents, Biden will choose a new nominee, reach accommodation with the Senate and seek to make up for lost time.

By Drew Flanagan

Slightly more than one month into his administration, just over half of President Biden’s 15 Cabinet secretary nominees have been confirmed. At a comparable time, the previous four presidents had 84% of their Cabinet picks confirmed. In fact, President George W. Bush had his entire Cabinet in place and President Bill Clinton had all but one position filled.  

The pace of confirming Cabinet secretaries historically influences the staffing of other leadership positions such as deputy secretaries and undersecretaries. Recent presidents have rarely nominated anyone to fill sub-Cabinet positions until the agency head has been confirmed. Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump collectively announced 274 sub-Cabinet nominations by the end of their first 100 days in office. Of these, only 18 or just 7% were sent to the Senate before the confirmation of their agency head.

This practice reflects deference toward the Cabinet secretaries and provides them with an opportunity to participate in the selection of officials who would work with them.

However, the current slow pace of confirmations has forced the Biden administration to operate differently. The White House has already submitted 22 sub-Cabinet positions to the Senate, 19 of which were sent before the Cabinet secretaries were confirmed (86%). Biden’s decision to take a fresh approach is likely the result of his transition team anticipating Cabinet confirmations taking longer than usual.

It is worth noting that Senate action in 2021 has been hindered by various highly unique events, including the Senate run-off election in Georgia, impeachment proceedings and negotiations over the Senate power-sharing agreement. Even so, the negative impacts of these delays remain significant, extending far beyond sub-Cabinet nominations. Without confirmed Cabinet secretaries, important decisions get postponed and government employees face uncertainty – problems that are magnified now as the country deals with the pandemic, an economic crisis and many other domestic and foreign policy challenges.

Overall, the Biden administration is ahead of the pace of nominations set by previous presidents. Biden has submitted 55 nominations to the Senate, 15% more than any of the previous five presidents at a comparable moment. Despite the high pace of personnel announcements, the Senate has confirmed just 11 of the 55 submitted nominees, including eight of 15 Cabinet secretaries.

Filling key administration jobs has taken on added significance due to the vulnerabilities posed by the crises facing our country. The sooner Biden’s Cabinet secretaries and other nominees are confirmed, the sooner they can get to work.

By Drew Flanagan, Carlos Galina and Paul Hitlin

As President Joe Biden continues to staff his administration, he has named acting officials to fill some of the 1,200 positions that require Senate confirmation – a power granted by Congress to presidents ever since George Washington’s first term. These temporary, acting officials play a vital role in maintaining continuity and providing leadership during times of change.

The rules governing the use of acting officials are found in the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, which spells out who is eligible to be selected and how long they can serve. In most instances, the law places a 210-day limit on how long someone can execute the functions of a position, although the limit is extended to 300 days for vacancies during a president’s first year.

While acting officials are always significant, their roles may be magnified now due to the Senate’s slower than normal pace of confirming Biden’s nominees. For a detailed list of the nominees and their status,  see the Biden Political Appointee Tracker which is updated daily by the Partnership for Public Service and The Washington Post.

The following is a list of acting officials named by the Biden administration for top positions at the 15 Cabinet agencies. The administration has not named acting officials for every position. The information was compiled from agency websites and public news reports.

This blog was updated on February 4, 2021.

Fifteen days into President Joe Biden’s administration, the Senate has confirmed just five of his 15 statutory Cabinet secretary nominees. At a comparable time, the Senate had confirmed 90% of the Cabinet secretaries for Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama combined.

By Paul Hitlin

Choosing 15 officials to fill their Cabinet is among the most important decisions new presidents make. The Senate plays a crucial role in considering and confirming those nominees. This year, the Senate is taking longer than it has for most other new administrations. At this time of multiple concurrent global and national crises, having a well-qualified Cabinet has taken on a new sense of urgency.

Fifteen days into Joe Biden’s presidency, the Senate has confirmed only five of 15 Cabinet secretary nominees. At a comparable time, President Bill Clinton had 13 nominees confirmed, President George W. Bush had 14 and President Barack Obama had 11. The official Cabinet consisted of 14 positions until 2002 when the Department of Homeland Security was established, and the Cabinet expanded to 15. Each president has the option to expand their Cabinet with additional members, but those positions are not part of the Cabinet as established by legislation. The Senate has confirmed one of Biden’s expanded cabinet of 23 officials – Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

The delays are not due to the lack of speed of Biden’s announcements. The official beginning of Biden’s transition was hampered by the delay in ascertainment – the formal decision made by the General Services Administration which triggers the government’s official preparation for a handover of power. However, Biden still announced nominations quickly. He publicly named 12 of his Cabinet choices by the end of 2020 and all 15 by Jan. 7, 2021 – about two weeks prior to his inauguration. In fact, Biden announced more nominations for Senate-confirmed positions during the time between his election and inauguration than any other president-elect.

The Senate delays began even before Biden was sworn in. The Senate can hold hearings for nominees prior to the president taking office to speed up the confirmation process. All of Clinton’s Cabinet secretary nominees had a preliminary hearing prior to Inauguration Day. The same was true for all but one of Bush’s nominees and 11 of Obama’s 14. By contrast, only five hearings were held for Biden’s picks prior to his inauguration, all of which took place the day before Biden was sworn in as president.

The confirmations of President Donald Trump’s initial Cabinet nominees took longer. Only four of his choices were confirmed within two weeks of his inauguration. However, Trump’s experience represents the exception rather than the rule. Trump’s transition team changed leadership immediately following his 2016 election, which slowed the vetting of candidates. Additionally, Trump announced nominees for secretaries of Veterans Affairs and Agriculture just days before his inauguration. Trump’s first choice for Labor secretary withdrew and other nominees did not have their paperwork completed or faced various controversies.

The reasons behind the Senate’s sluggish pace in considering Biden nominees are unclear. The Jan. 5 runoff election in Georgia, which decided party control of the Senate, is certainly a contributing factor. So is the impending impeachment trial and the prolonged negotiation over how power would be shared in an evenly divided Senate. The delayed ascertainment and refusal of the Trump to acknowledge the election results were additional factors that served as disincentives for the Senate to move forward with Biden’s nominees.

Regardless, the Senate has an obligation to act quickly to ensure that our government has qualified and accountable leadership in place, especially during times of crisis.

Now that a power-sharing agreement has been reached and committee leadership is becoming clear, the Senate has an opportunity to accelerate its consideration of Biden’s nominations. Precedents set by previous transitions suggest the Senate can – and should – move faster to fill critical vacancies so that government can serve the public effectively.