Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Catch of the Day

To former Ambassaror Christopher Hill, who wrote a nice, concise column about the broken executive branch nomination and confirmation process (via Wonk Wire).

The key point here is that there are two ways in which the process is broken, and they really aren't all that closely related. The one we've all been talking about a lot, what with Senate reform in the works, is the difficulty nominations have had on the floor of the Senate. Holds, successful partisan filibusters sustained over cloture votes, and slow-walking filibusters that can't beat cloture but chew up too much time -- they're all real issues, and one would hope that Senate reform could smooth the process. I've been advocating for simple-majority cloture and for help on post-cloture time (perhaps use-it-or-lose-it rules, perhaps the Udall-Merkley idea of severely limiting post-cloture time).

But that's only the very final stage of things. As Hill makes clear, even if nominations sailed through from the committee stage to the floor and confirmation, the process up to that point is a disaster:
Today, any nominee to a position requiring Senate confirmation can expect to spend many hours listing past places of residence, attaching tax returns, detailing family members’ campaign contributions, and answering questions about the employment of domestic help or gardening services and whether such employees were legal, tax-paying US residents. The vetting process will even go back to one’s teenage years – all to ensure that anything that the Senate’s own investigators can find is known before the nomination is formally submitted.

During my career, the Senate confirmed me five times. Each time, the vetting essentially started from scratch. In addition to the countless forms, lengthy questionnaires, and background investigations, there was an interview with a paralegal whose job was to ferret out any information that might conceivably bear on the nomination.
As Hill points out, this can easily be a grueling year-long (or longer) ordeal -- for a job which the nominee may only intend to fill for two or three years.

It's nuts! I'll say it again: both Congress and the White House should agree to dramatically scale back the vetting. Way, way, back. Even if it proves impossible to clear up the mess on the Senate floor, there's absolutely no excuse for overvetting. It just takes some real presidential initiative to reverse the long-term inertia on this one. Which we haven't yet seen from this president, but I'll hold out hope that things may change in the second term.

Meanwhile: nice catch!


  1. It's nice to have someone point this out in print.

    Once again, and people wonder why Obama can't have a few hundred more confirmations up in the air - this is why. Or why he can't find people willing to step up - this is why.

    It's not that he isn't backing them up, it's that the process has been made so confrontational, so long, so uncertain and so painful as to be ridiculous. And it's all to the Republicans' advantage to make it as painful as possible.

  2. I agree about the GOP's interest in it -- but the excessive vetting is being done by the Democratic White House and the Democratic Senate Committee Chairs. Democrats could solve it tomorrow if they wanted to.


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