Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Catch of the Day

Goes to Theodoric Meyer for an excellent reported piece on executive branch vacancies. Guess what? There are more at this point of the Obama Administration than at similar points during the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush presidencies (via Goddard). Not an overwhelming difference, but still a real one.

Meyer does a good job of not only detailing the difference, but pointing out the consequences of these missed opportunities:

The lack of appointed leaders can create problems. Too many vacancies can put agencies “in stand-down, waiting for policymakers to show up,” said Terry Sullivan, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina who has studied appointments.

Acting heads of agencies “don’t make any big decisions,” said Cal Mackenzie, a professor of government at Colby College who has studied appointments since the 1970s. “Your authority is not going to be recognized in the same way a Senate-confirmed appointee is going to be recognized.”
Meyer is absolutely correct that both Obama and the Senate are at fault. As far as what can be done, regular readers know my suggestions: more presidential attention to appointments; a lot less vetting from both the president and the Senate; and, as I argued again today, simple-majority cloture for executive branch nominations.

The first step, however, is to identify the problem and to realize it's important and has important consequences. So: nice catch!


  1. What's the mechanism by which this gets addressed though? Do party activists need to apply pressure during the primary for 2016 in order to force any future Dem president to be more proactive on this front? Is that even likely to matter given how few voters will care about this issue at all?

    1. The only outside mechanism would be Dem-aligned interest groups pressuring the president and the Senate. There's been some of that, but not all that much, in my view.

  2. We should assume that Obama isn't a useless idiot, and that he knows exactly what he's doing by not appointing people. Clearly he likes the current outcome since he doesn't appear to be doing anything to change it.

    I think a far more interesting article would be about what Obama gets from doing things the way he's doing them, not speculation about some alternate-universe liberal Obama.

    If you assume the current policy is doing exactly what the president wants it to, who's benefiting?

    1. People make mistakes. The presidency is a difficult job, and requires setting priorities; it's certainly possible to make wrong choices when doing that.

      Leaving the Senate aside...It's extremely difficult to read Obama's slow pace in making appointments as deliberately attempting to get specific results. Take the Fed; if what Obama wanted was the results he was getting when two Fed Board seats were open, why not just appoint people with those views -- and why, when he has made appointments (other than Bernanke, which is a complex case) has he chosen people with different views? It's far more logical to conclude that he actually prefers the results he'll get from a combo of Bernanke plus the other appointees than the results that he was getting from Bernanke and open seats, but that he was just slow in making choices. Especially since a large part of the delay was the Senate, not Obama.

  3. The average time from when the President selects to Congressional yea or nay is 200 days.

    Somehow, I just don't think this is the President's fault.

    Where is he going to get the budget to have handlers for more appointees languishing before Congress? Where is he going to find the appointees willing to go through the year long reaming?

    1. That too.

      However, I do believe that if Obama placed a higher priority on it, there would be more action.

    2. Yeah, it could be a higher priority. But I guess the problem I'd have with it is I don't see any real benefit to this - the benefit to cost vs other projects he could be doing... There's just so many hours in the day, and it's not like the media can seem to manage more than one topic at a time. They forget more than half the things he says!

      So it just seems like it would take alot of effort for only a tiny window of benefit.

    3. Obama could probably assign someone else to do the searching and vetting. On Crissa's other point, though, I wonder how many people have been approached and turned him down?


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