Votes fill agency posts, but plenty empty
In a flurry of votes before the Senate left town late Thursday for its annual August recess, lawmakers confirmed dozens of President Donald Trump’s nominees for leadership roles at federal agencies and courts.
New deputies will fill long-vacant senior posts across the government, including at the U.S. Agency for International Development, where Mark Andrew Green was confirmed as administrator; the Department of Homeland Security, where Claire Grady was waved through as undersecretary for management; and the Treasury Department, where David Malpass was approved as undersecretary for international affairs.
The pace of nominations picked up in recent weeks. But the eleventh-hour action in Congress still leaves the Trump administration way behind its predecessors in staffing the government’s senior leadership ranks, the people who are tasked with pushing the White House’s agenda through.
Even with the 66 nominees confirmed Thursday — bringing the total for the executive branch to 124 — critical leadership positions remain vacant at almost every agency and department in the federal government. Just seven of the 15 Cabinet agencies have their No. 2 leaders in place, leaving dayto-day operations to career civil servants in acting roles.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, for example, has no deputy in the formal pipeline; the White House has yet to nominate one. The Treasury and Commerce departments don’t either, after candidates for those second-in-command jobs withdrew from consideration. The woman Trump has nominated for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s No. 2 job, a veteran of the George W. Bush administration, has made it through a Senate committee but missed the docket for Thursday’s vote.
The Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments also have no deputy in place. And this week George Nesterczuk, whom the White House put forward to run the Office of Personnel Management, withdrew, citing opposition from federal employee unions and the slow confirmation process. The government’s personnel agency has been without a confirmed director for more than two years.
By the Senate’s August recess in 2009, former President Barack Obama’s first term, lawmakers had advanced 310 of the 1,110 positions requiring confirmation, according to data tracked by The Washington Post and the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition.
At the same milestone in the George W. Bush administration, the count was 294, and during Bill Clinton’s first term, the count was 252.
The average time for the Senate to confirm an appointee is 54 days, a time frame that also lags behind the pace of the Obama, Clinton and both Bush administrations.
The pace of confirmations has, not surprisingly, become embroiled in politics. Paperwork has been slow to reach Senate committees. Trump repeatedly has accused Senate Democrats of blocking votes on his nominees. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., had been slowing the process to protest the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but agreed to move a block of nominees before the August recess.
Among the other nominees confirmed were former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, as ambassador to NATO, New York Jets owner Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson as ambassador to Great Britain and Northern Ireland, several U.S. attorneys, and top positions at the State Department, Department of Veterans Affairs and the Federal Communications Commission.