On the Record

Presidential Appointment Process

Paul C. Light

Kojo Nnamdi:…Every 4 years or so, maybe every 8 years, some 3000 political appointees come to Washington and Political Science professors say that system works very well for us, but the numbers are increasing. And their confirmation process, their background checks, and the political football that the senate plays with their nominations is just wasting valuable time that all of us could use to govern better.

Well, here we are, right at the one year mark of President Bush’s first term in office. So how does the appointment’s process look from here? Well, it looks about two thirds done; and that’s how it looks. More than a year into his term, more than four months into our war on terrorism, there are still numerous vacant positions among the highest levels of our government.

So, with Congress returning today to start a new session, we’d thought we’d ask, “How much of a problem are these vacancies? Are they effecting our National security, and or we, as some have claimed, in a vacancy crisis. Here to answer those questions and more in our Washington studio, is John Fortier, he is the Project Manager of the Transitioning to Governing Project at the American Enterprise Institute. John Fortier, welcome…and joining us by telephone is Paul Light Senior Advisor to the Presidential Appointee Initiative at the Brookings Institution; he is also the Brookings Institution’s Director of the Center for Public Service and Vice President and Director of Governmental Studies at Brookings. Paul Light, thank you for joining us.

…Paul, I don’t think most people realize how quickly the number of political appointees is growing. According to one run down I saw that instead of having fewer appointments to make, President Bush has got some thirty more additional appointee jobs to fill in the last nine months or so and only about eight of them were created after the wake of September 11, so there had to be 22 before that. What’s going on?

Light: Well, every president since Dwight Eisenhower has added layers and appointments to the Federal hierarchy and Congress likes nothing better than to create new jobs. It’s kind of the solution du jour when you don’t have something substantive to do. So, since 1980 when Ronald Reagan was president, we’ve added roughly 170 new jobs that require senate confirmation. As a result, even though the Bush Administration is doing quite well at moving nominations forward, their actually setting a record every day in terms of the absolute number of nominations, they have a much higher mountain to climb, and that’s because we like to create new positions in the hopes that more leaders equals more leadership.

listen to the entire interview (Real Audio 51.21)

Resources: Presidential Appointee Initiative

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