Two great items today on the newsier blogs, both of which give me an excuse to trot out my Appointments Commission idea (see below). First, Steve Benen on why it makes a big difference whether there's a Democrat or Republican as Secretary of Labor. Then, Marc Ambinder on one of the Obama administration's biggest weaknesses to date: nominating and confirming the kinds of people who, when in place, actually make a big difference in how the government runs.
If anything, Marc's piece is too weak, focusing as it does mainly on how executive branch personnel are important in passing legislation. While that's true, it's even more important for people to be in place to help administer things once they've passed (as well as running the old programs, of course). I recall that Robert Dallek thought that one of LBJ's biggest problems was that he conceived of government as legislating, and so once he signed a bill he sort of ignored what happened later. If Obama wants his programs to actually work, he needs to get people in place to carry them out.
As I've argued in the past, the best first step would be to radically reduce the vetting currently required in order to serve in the executive branch. My proposal? Get a commission together (a couple ex-WH Chiefs of Staff, a couple of former cabinet secretaries, a couple of former Senate committee chairs, half from each party, and I'd add a couple corporate execs who know about personnel). Charge them with reporting back in three months with a plan to dramatically reduce the amount of vetting. Then, actually implement it.
Yes, you'll buy yourself a few more lousy news cycles, because you'll wind up with a few more bad apples (mostly appearance bad apples rather than substance bad apples; actual harm to the agencies will be minimal). In exchange, the government will actually work better, and be more responsive to the president. You'll have better people and they'll be in place quicker. That's a trade-off that the Obama administration, as I've said before, should have taken from the start, and it's not to late to do something about it now.