December 20, 2023

Empty Seats

Slow Senate Confirmation Process Leaves Many Part-Time Boards and Commissions with Vacancies

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The Partnership for Public Service is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works to revitalize the federal government by inspiring a new generation to serve and by transforming the way government works. The Partnership teams up with federal agencies and other stakeholders to make our government more effective and efficient.
Table of Contents




The large number of political appointments requiring Senate confirmation needs urgent review, and that review should include part-time positions to federal boards and commissions. More than 1,200 political leadership positions across the federal government require Senate confirmation, including 303 presidential appointments for part-time positions on boards and commissions. The Board of Directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service and the United States Postal Service Board of Governors are just two examples of the country’s many part-time boards and commissions.

The data in this report highlights the difficulties presidential administrations have faced in getting nominees confirmed for these part-time positions. 1 Our research shows that, across presidential administrations, confirmation to these positions has taken longer than full-time positions and that these positions often lack confirmed appointments altogether.

A decade ago, these part-time positions on boards and commissions made up the bulk of those removed from the Senate confirmation requirement. These previous reforms serve as a successful pilot case for removing the confirmation requirement from part-time positions. Therefore, for the many positions that still must undergo Senate confirmation, it is time again to review whether all these boards and commissions are set up for success and are able to achieve their missions, or if Congress needs to implement additional reforms.

Congress has a variety of options to begin creating a more effective and efficient system:

  • Congress should convert as many positions as possible from those that require Senate confirmation to those that do not—for example, enable the president or agency heads to appoint individuals to positions. This would ensure that the work of these boards and commissions is not held up by a confirmation process that strains under the current number of Senate-confirmed positions.
  • Numerous part-time boards and commissions have close to a dozen or more members. Even if Congress decides that these boards and commission should retain some Senate-confirmed positions, it could reduce the number of positions subject to confirmation.
  • As described below, several boards and commissions have not been in operation for long periods because all their positions are vacant. Congress should eliminate boards and commissions if there is no longer bipartisan interest in maintaining them, or where longstanding gridlock demonstrates that the board or commission is not a viable option for tackling the purpose it was designed for.

Part-time board and commission positions constitute more than 20% of the political appointments that require Senate confirmation.



Part-time boards and commissions contain 303 positions that require Senate confirmation, at least a fifth of the more than 1,200 Senate-confirmed positions in the federal government.2

There are a total of 40 part-time boards and commissions that include at least one Senate-confirmed appointee.3 Some of these boards and commissions, such as the National Council on the Humanities, have as many as 26 Senate-confirmed positions in part-time roles. Others have shared governance structures with only one confirmed position—that is, the other positions on the board or commission do not require confirmation—such as the Public Buildings Reform Board, which identifies opportunities for the federal government to reduce its property inventory.

Historically, these positions have been difficult for the government and outside observers to track and are largely excluded from the listings in the United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions, or Plum Book.

Presidents over the past several decades have struggled to fill board and commission positions due to long confirmation delays, the president’s failure to propose nominees or other complications.



Dating back to the Reagan administration, every president has taken longer to fill part-time board and commission appointments than to fill all other Senate-confirmed positions.

During the Reagan administration, it took about a hundred days to appoint members to part-time boards and commissions; it has taken the Biden administration about 200 days.

Several part-time boards and commissions have experienced longer confirmation delays than others.

While the average time between nomination and confirmation for part-time board and commission nominees is almost seven months, some nominees have faced wait times of over a year, and in some cases much longer.

For example, the past three nominees confirmed to the Inter-American Foundation Board of Directors, a U.S. foreign assistance agency that invests in the development of Latin America and the Caribbean, had confirmation delays of at least six months. One nominee waited nearly a year and a half to be confirmed. These types of delays make it difficult for boards and commissions to operate effectively, meet their mission and serve the public.

Many part-time boards and commissions have been without confirmed members for several years.

Due to a lack of nominee submissions by the president and Senate confirmation delays, many part-time boards and commissions have not had appointees confirmed for several years.

The entities in the chart below have not had a nominee confirmed by the Senate since the George W. Bush or Barack Obama administrations. Without confirmations to fill vacated seats on these boards and commissions, many remain unfilled for extended periods. These vacancies may hamper work that Congress wants to prioritize or indicate that the positions are no longer needed.

Examples of Inactive Boards and Commissions

Several part-time boards and commissions struggle to meet their mission, short on members due to a lack of nominations or a difficult Senate confirmation process. As a result, the services offered by these entities suffer and key government functions stall.

Some examples include:

  • Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission: This commission was created by the Mission Act of 2018 to review which Department of Veterans Affairs facilities are underused and could be closed, and to identify areas where the VA should consider building new facilities. President Donald Trump did not nominate anyone for this commission; President Joe Biden has submitted 10 nominations, but none of them have been confirmed, and the commission remains inactive.
  • International Broadcasting Advisory Board: In December 2020, Congress expanded the size of this board from five to seven members and required that each be confirmed by the Senate. This was part of an effort to strengthen oversight of the Chief Executive Office of the U.S. Agency for Global Media. Since this change, President Biden has made 13 nominations to the board, but none of them have been confirmed, making it impossible for the board to operate.
  • National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers Board of Directors: In January 2015, President Obama signed a law that created the National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers to oversee insurance licensing across states. While President Obama made 10 nominations to the board, none were confirmed and neither Presidents Trump nor Biden have followed up with their own nominations. As a result, the board has not been in operation since its creation.
  • Advisory Board for Cuba Broadcasting: Since this board was established in 2000 to review the effectiveness of U.S. television broadcasting to Cuba, a total of nine individuals have been nominated to fill nine positions, and only four were confirmed. With the most recent nominee confirmed nearly 20 years ago, in June 2005, the board has become administratively inactive, with no meetings held, no money spent and no reports made.

Just over a decade ago, Congress reduced the number of positions subject to Senate confirmation, focusing particularly on part-time boards and commissions.



The 2011 Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act removed Senate confirmation requirements for 168 positions.4 Of these 168 positions, 110 were in part-time boards and commissions. A sizable number of these positions came from large entities like the National Museum and Library Services Board and the National Science Board, with 20 and 24 positions respectively.

Given that Congress reduced the number of Senate-confirmed positions by targeting just eight part-time boards and commissions, it is likely that examining the remaining 40 part-time boards and commissions could significantly quicken the pace of Senate confirmations across all positions.




Nominees for important government leadership jobs are getting ensnared in the Senate confirmation process for longer than ever before.5 This logjam has caused critical positions to remain vacant for too long, which prevents agencies from better serving the public, discourages talented people from pursuing government service and consumes valuable Senate time.

One approach to address this backlog would be to exclude some of the 303 part-time board and commission positions from Senate confirmation, allowing the president or agency leaders to fill them, or to eliminate some of these positions entirely.

By reviewing these part-time boards and commissions, and moving some positions out of the confirmation pipeline, the Senate would ensure these entities have sufficient personnel to fulfill their functions. In turn, the Senate would have more time to spend on critical business: legislative matters, oversight, and the most crucial confirmations.

The Partnership for Public Service previously highlighted various approaches to streamline the presidential appointment process, including changing how appointments are made for part-time boards and commissions. Without such reforms, the confirmation process will continue to bog the Senate down, and our government and the people it serves will continue to suffer the consequences of long-standing vacancies in key federal positions.

  • 1. This reports relies upon appointments data from our Political Appointee Tracker, run jointly with The Washington Post, and from Vanderbilt University professor David E. Lewis.
  • 2. In some cases, these entities also have full-time Senate-confirmed positions. However, these positions are not the subject of this report.
  • 3. There are of course other boards and commissions in the federal government whose members all serve on a full-time basis. Examples include the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Election Commission.
  • 4. This count is based on the most recent Congressional Research Report on Senate confirmed positions. A previous Congressional Research report reported the number to be 163 positions. This discrepancy speaks to the challenges of tracking the number of Senate confirmed positions.




Project Team



Sasha Blachman


Valerie Smith Boyd
Director, Center for Presidential Transition


Bob Cohen
Senior Writer and Editor


Troy Cribb
Director of Policy


Samantha Donaldson
Vice President, Communications


Barry Goldberg
Senior Writer and Editor

Paul Hitlin
Senior Manager, Center for Presidential Transition


Jenny Mattingley
Vice President of Government Affairs


Mary Monti


Chris Piper
Associate Manager


Max Stier
President and CEO


Betsy Super
Senior Manager, Center for Presidential Transition