Presidential Appointments Update: The Senate and the Administration Should Speed Up the Confirmation Process

December 10, 2018

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.

PresidentNominatedConfirmed“Failed”Average Days to Confirm
Trump25551646
Obama390228838
W. Bush350208334
Clinton290214429
H.W. Bush283162132

Source: www.congress.gov. (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 Relations48169
The Judiciary4075
Armed Services2677
Banking, Housing, Urban Affairs2394
Finance2354
Commerce, Science, Technology2033
Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions1823
Energy and Natural Resources1332
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs1244
Intelligence733
Floor6
Environment and Public Works622
Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry711
Veterans Affairs331
Small Business and Entrepreneurship211
Budget211

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

Source: www.congress.gov 
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.