Appointment Housekeeping

Too many federal posts are empty. What can be done?

Perhaps it is nobody's fault, in particular, that the presidential appointment process is as cumbersome, and slow, as it is. That the process needs vast improvement is an understatement. But now, six months into a new administration, can the federal government really get along without, for instance, a new administrator for Social Security, the Food and Drug Administration, and key positions in the Defense Department?

Nearly one-third of the top appointed positions are still empty. Finger-pointing about the delays continues unabated between Capitol Hill and the White House. One prediction is that this administration's appointments won't be entirely filled until March, 2002.

Is this any way to run a democratic government?

As of July 13, 95 subcabinet officers were in the appointment pipeline, with 41 more announced. But even if the Senate confirmed all of those pending nominations, there are still 195 positions to be announced by the White House out of a total of 497 cabinet and subcabinet positions.

The White House says the approval process is on the same timeline as during the first Reagan administration; what it doesn't talk about is that it has not announced fewer than half nominations that President Reagan had at this same point in his first term.

But even during President Clinton's second term, delays were common: More than a third of senior administration positions were vacant well into 1997.

President Bush had a late start on his appointments, due to the delay of the Florida vote count. And now he faces a nearly evenly divided Senate. The FBI, too, has a litany of problems in doing the laborious background checks on nominees. Even technology plays a detrimental role: Despite the advent of the Internet era, some related appointment forms are required to be filled out by typewriter.

What can be done? At the very least, simple software could be developed that would help speed a process that takes months, and occasionally years, to complete. Get an agreement between the White House and Congress on which positions need full FBI investigations, and which need partial ones. The White House can work to send nominations up to the Hill without overwhelmingly piling them on. Best of all, reduce the number of political appointees overall.

There's no reason not to work toward a more streamlined process that serves the government - and the public.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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