Monday, August 24, 2009

Filling Posts Quicker

This poorly organized NY Times story is on an important topic: lots of important government posts remained unfilled because the vetting and confirmation process is out of control.

(Poorly organized? Try reading it to figure out whether the current administration is doing better or worse than recent transitions, and whether the remaining problems are the fault of slow vetting, a slow Senate, or something else).'s a problem. Via Drum, James Joyner's solution is to convert more appointments into civil service positions. Drum, on the other hand, would just prefer to make them political appointments without Senate confirmation.

The former would transfer power from elected officials to bureaucrats; the latter would transfer power from Congress to the president. I don't like either; I like democratic control over bureaucracies, and I don't think presidents are too powerful. I like the idea that NIMBY Kansas Senators can have some leverage over public policy by holding up appointments (although I'd rather not hold up this particular appointment over this particular policy, but that's democracy for you).

Here's my reform proposal: presidents should unilaterally scale back the vetting for subcabinet appointments. Scale it way back. You know what? No one will care. If the Senate wants to continue to make a fuss over tiny little tax errors, let 'em. If you lose a half dozen or even a dozen appointees at the confirmation stage, big deal. No one will care. And you're already losing lots of people who don't want to deal with the intense vetting, so you'll get some of them back. I'm willing to bet that an incoming administration would wind up with a better team closer to their original preferences, and less political damage, if they did no vetting at all below the cabinet level than they get with the current ridiculous system.

Find out what law firms and big corporations do when they make high level hires. Add a national security clearance when necessary. That's it. If the Senate wants to do more, don't worry about it, but you'll have the high ground to chide them about it. And if it turns out you accidentally promoted Peress, don't worry; everyone will forget it in a couple of weeks.

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