29 April 2009

Understaffing the New Administration

I'm not sure which is more striking: that 100 days into the new administration more than two thirds of senior offices in every cabinet department are still vacant, or that, apparently, that's the norm.

A look inside the numbers paints an even bleaker picture. Only 48 of 349 positions have cleared the final hurdle to begin work, Senate confirmation. It's been pointed out before, especially in relation to the staffing woes at Treasury during an economic crisis, but is there really any reason for the Senate to confirm 349 positions? Now more than ever, can we not make the case that the Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education at the Department of Education is not a remarkable or contentious position (at least not until the nomination goes to the Senate!)? See here for a full list.

Here's Gary Andres of Dutko Worldwide, a large consulting and lobbying firm, in a panel discussion last month at the Wilson Center:

It used to be that senators did not oppose presidential nominations on policy grounds because Members believed the president was entitled to have his own people carrying out his policies. The senators’ job was to determine whether the nominee was professionally qualified and ethically fit for the job. But all that has changed as senators and interest groups began grinding their political and policy axes at confirmation hearings.

Emphasis mine. I leave to the reader the possibility that, without all this premium grade political posturing (read "BS"), we could actually have a government system that is mostly staffed and ready to go after 100 days, as opposed to simply being ready to get ready to fight about being ready to serve the citizens of the country.