To Form a Government: A Bipartisan Plan to Improve the Presidential Appointments Process

April 5, 2001

For more than a year the staff and advisory board of The Presidential Appointee Initiative have been gathering and analyzing information about the presidential appointments process. Those studies include detailed empirical analysis of past presidential transitions, the history of the appointments process, and the evolution of the Senate confirmation process;a survey of a representative sample of appointees from the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations; and a survey of leading Americans who represent the types of individuals who typically would be considered as candidates for presidential appointments. This has been the most sweeping study and assessment of the presidential appointments process ever undertaken.

From all of those analyses, there now emerges our major enterprise:an agenda for reform. We offer here a small number of recommendations that we believe can substantially improve the process by which candidates for presidential appointments are selected, vetted, and confirmed.

Our research shows that the appointments process is too slow. It is buried in excesses of redundant and unnecessary information. It too often mistreats the very people the federal government must recruit to manage its complex activities.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We believe that careful consideration of these proposals can lead to enlightened action by the president and the Senate to fix much of what is wrong with the appointments process.

The urgency of this task could not be greater. Like all of its recent predecessors, the new administration is caught in a morass of outdated and irrational procedures and requirements as it seeks to fill its top ranks. What the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations were able to complete in a few months will likely take all of President George W. Bush’s first year. That’s not good enough. We believe that the proposals offered here provide a roadmap for those seeking a way out of the appointments maze. We hope those with authority to effect these changes will carefully consider our proposals for doing so.

Before turning to the agenda,we wish to express our gratitude to the members of PAI’s advisory board,whose names are listed at the end of this report. All of them reviewed and commented on this study. Readers should not presume that every advisory board member agrees with every word here, but their support for the thrust of these recommendations and understanding of the dire need for reform of the appointments process are unanimous.

The Honorable Nancy Kassebaum Baker
Former Republican Senator from Kansas
Co-Chair, The Presidential Appointee Initiative
Advisory Board

Franklin D. Raines
Chairman and CEO, Fannie Mae
Former Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Co-Chair, The Presidential Appointee Initiative
Advisory Board