Photo credit: Department of Defense/U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders
Our government works best when it has a full team of capable and committed individuals serving in career positions and political appointments. For the past decades, the number of Senate-confirmed positions grew from 779 to 1,237, a 59% increase between 1960 and 2016. This increase—along with challenges in the confirmation process—have resulted in the confirmation times for nominees taking longer every year, and vacancies across agencies increasing significantly. These trends highlight serious barriers to our government’s effectiveness, responsiveness and agility. Our analysis of Biden’s progress with nominations and confirmations in his first year indicates that the current number of positions needing Senate confirmation continues to lead to a confirmation logjam that grows each year. The holdup has limited the ability of administrations to fill critical roles and undermines the effectiveness of the American government.
Since 2001, the Partnership for Public Service has contributed to making government more effective and efficient. In 2011, the Partnership supported the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act, which reduced the overall number of Senate-confirmed positions by 163. Last year, the Partnership’s Center for Presidential Transition, the premier nonpartisan source of information and resources for presidential candidates and their teams, published Unconfirmed. In that report, we present seven approaches for rethinking Senate-confirmed positions, favoring longer-term alternatives while preserving the Senate’s oversight and constitutional role. From converting Senate-confirmed positions to noncareer Senior Executive Service positions or political appointments that do not need Senate confirmation, to eliminating redundant and consistently vacant appointments, the approaches are meant to start a conversation—one that is aimed at resetting the appointments process while maintaining its core principles and intent. Only through cooperation from the executive and legislative branches can the appointments process be reformed from the unsustainable status quo.