Votes fill agency posts, but plenty empty

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - LISA REIN

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.

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