Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

The Obama Bureaucracy Gap: Mid-Level Positions Still Vacant

Posted by K.E. White on April 12, 2009


Woe the empty chairs? Obamaland has hundreds of positions still waiting for Congressional approval.

Woe the empty chairs? Obamaland has hundreds of positions still waiting for Congressional approval.

Should the appointment process be Congressional reform item #1?

At a recent congressional hearing, for example, Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., lamented that Dennis Blair, the national intelligence director, doesn’t have time to manage the extra responsibilities he’s been given on economics and climate change.

“The ideal person for that is the principal deputy director of national intelligence,” suggested Edward Maguire, the agency’s outgoing inspector general.

But that’s one of hundreds of seats still empty. There are similar stories all across government.

George Mason University professor James Pfiffner, an expert on presidential appointments, said that while capable civil servants can keep the government functioning, no one expects them to “go off in a new direction” to carry out a new president’s policies.

Light describes it as a “neckless government,” representing the gap between the new Cabinet secretaries and the career employees.

“You really need the president’s people in there to put the push on for action,” he said.

All told, Obama has about 500 appointments to make that are subject to Senate confirmation, and about 3,000 positions to fill overall, Light estimates.

From Norman Orstein’s recent Politico blog:

The problem is that career bureaucrats or officials in agencies either cannot or will not make those decisions on their own– and the political appointees who could make the decisions have not been confirmed, or in many cases even nominated. It is true that the Obama Administration started impressively during the transition, and moved to select a Cabinet and get a White House team in place in near-record time for the modern period. They are still a bit ahead of the pace of the Bush and Clinton Administrations on the rest of their appointments, but only a bit. In ordinary times, waiting until the summer or fall to get the second tier officials in office– those below the top fifty. But these are not ordinary times, and the failure to get the top one hundred appointees in place in the homeland security, national security and economic areas, especially, is a major problem. It underscores the deep need to reform and streamline the nomination and confirmation process, formally through a different vetting process, and informally by losing our obsession with nitpicking tax returns and demonizing people who have been Washington insiders. Congress and the White House both need to focus on this issue. It has gone beyond questions of public administration to real and basic government performance.

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