Updating the Federal Vacancies Reform Act

Clarify when acting officials may perform leadership duties

Given delays in the confirmation process, government positions may go months or years without the president’s nominee on the job. Acting officials—even if they are seasoned and highly regarded individuals—often lack the perceived authority that accompanies Senate confirmation. Many acting officials are asked to perform multiple jobs at the same time, dividing their attention and increasing their responsibilities. The use of temporary officials also can complicate, and even invite, legal challenges to government action.

The length and sizable number of vacancies point to the need for an update of the law governing which officials may temporarily serve in a position subject to Senate confirmation that is vacant, and for how long. Congress has not revisited the rules on acting officials since passing the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998. Clarifying ambiguities in the law would help guard against violations and provide more transparency regarding “acting” officials.