This problem has a three-part solution. Please see reforms five, six and seven to see all parts.
More than a year after the 2008 financial crisis, the Treasury Department still didn’t have an assistant secretary for financial markets. In the middle of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there was no Secretary of the Army. And on 9/11, the Bush administration still didn’t have a full national security team in place.
These are the consequences of a broken presidential appointments process. In recent years, the Senate is taking more time to confirm more people, and the problem is especially glaring at the beginning of new administrations. The number of positions requiring Senate confirmation has grown from 280 to 1,400 over the past 50 years, while the average length of time for confirmation has grown from two-and-a-half months to more than 10.
The confirmation process has developed into an embarrassing charade, with highly qualified nominees held up for petty or purely partisan reasons. In one case, a nominee was confirmed by a Senate committee in three months while a different committee held up his wife’s confirmation for more than a year with questions about her taxes—despite the fact they had both filed the same joint tax returns.
Presidents, meanwhile, have a harder time finding qualified nominees willing to brave the lengthy and highly intrusive vetting process. At a time when our government needs the best people we can find, we often make it too hard for them to serve.
The Senate’s “Advice and Consent” on nominations is an important check on presidential power, but it’s not needed for every mid-level official and presidential commission. We should give new presidents more authority to fill less- urgent positions and let the Senate focus on the most important nominees who deal with more pressing matters. Encouragingly, a bipartisan bill to do just that has passed the Senate and awaits action in the House.