Report: Shortened Transition Could Dramatically Slow Filling of 1,200 Executive Branch Jobs

November 18, 2020 by Dan McCue
The White House. (Jon Bilous/Dreamstime/TNS)

WASHINGTON – The abbreviated transition caused by the Trump administration’s refusal to recognize President-elect Joe Biden’s victory could impair the new president’s ability to fill the more than 1,200 executive branch jobs requiring Senate confirmation, a new report says.

The white paper prepared for the Center for Presidential Transition by the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service compared the pace of confirmations for President George W. Bush, whose transition did not begin until after the Florida recount concluded on Dec. 13, 2000, and President Barack Obama.

The authors found Obama was able to confirm twice the number of Senate-approved appointments, including key national security positions, at the 100-day mark than his predecessor.

“Further delays by the General Services Administration in recognizing the outcome of the Nov. 3 election could impede the ability of President-elect Joe Biden to make timely and critical appointments for key COVID-19 and national security-related positions, thereby weakening the government’s ability to protect our nation and distribute life-saving vaccines,” the paper says.

The authors note that staffing a new administration is a difficult task in normal times.

“In a crisis, particularly a pandemic, staffing becomes more crucial,” they wrote.

“Effective selection and placement of personnel becomes even more difficult when a president-elect does not have full and complete access to government resources during the entire 77-day period between the election and the inauguration to help vet high-level appointees,” they added.

The paper goes on to say that early delays in the nomination process are difficult to overcome.

The authors note that Bush made the first announcement for a Senate-confirmed position on Dec. 16, 2000. At the equivalent time in 2008, Obama had announced 15 key officials, including seven Cabinet secretaries.

“Biden is appropriately continuing his transition work, including with respect to personnel announcements. However, until the GSA ascertains the outcome, the Biden transition team is unable to formally process those nominations. To do so, they require: final FBI background checks; processing of the nominations by the Office of Government Ethics; and review and resolution of any disclosure, divestment and recusal obligations to ensure that nominees comply with federal ethics in government laws and regulations,” the paper says.

The Trump administration’s delay in conceding the results of the election is also preventing the Senate from holding pre-inaugural confirmation hearings for the highest priority nominees.

That process cannot start until the nominations are sent to the Senate. The Senate held 40% fewer pre-inaugural hearings for Bush nominees than it did eight years later for Obama.

The author’s note the slower pace of personnel announcements continued into the first year of the Bush administration.

By day 100 of his presidency, Bush had only 35 senior officials confirmed by the Senate compared with 69 for Obama. Bush submitted his 100th nomination to the Senate on April 30, 2001 – 101 days into his administration. Obama hit that milestone more than a month earlier, on March 24, 2009.

Even though Bush’s party held a slimmer majority in the Senate than Obama’s in 2009, the difference did not impact the pace of nominations.

By Bush’s 100th day in office, the Senate had only confirmed two of the major national security leadership positions – the secretary and deputy secretary of the Department of Defense. By the end of June, just 12 of the 45 Senate-confirmed positions at DOD were filled.

“If the same slow pace of appointments were to occur this year with respect to health and COVID-19 related positions, the negative implications on the government’s response could be significant,” the authors wrote.

“A delayed start to the transition places a new administration, and more importantly the nation, at risk and far behind in advancing policy goals,” they said.

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