Speaking of the last administration, how does President Biden’s track record compare to Donald Trump’s?
The Biden team is leading the way in their nominations from where Trump was at this point, but they are actually neck and neck in the number of people confirmed.
It’s easy to see why the Senate could be a roadblock to confirmations, but what explains the delay in nominations?
There is a mutual relationship between the two. One of the challenges that any administration faces is thinking about the likelihood of people being confirmed. A difficult confirmation process affects the nomination process. There is a lot of risk aversion. And, frankly, their ability to recruit has been hurt. Think of all the people who would throw their hats into battle knowing they’ll be part of that cool-your-jet package. Everything you do is subject to huge scrutiny, and you need to be mindful and careful about what you should be doing that could get you in trouble.
And to add another complication, a current candidate cannot also serve as acting leader, according to a relatively recent Supreme Court ruling. For example, if the Biden administration were to nominate Janet Woodcock to serve as FDA commissioner, she would have to resign from her current role as acting commissioner. Congress should fix this.
Which agencies are you most concerned about?
I think the State Department is clearly one of the most obvious places with significant gaps. Of the positions we track, the State Department has the most holes of any agency. But the truth is, you only have 127 confirmed positions, so problems are pretty much everywhere. The most obvious are the places where there are current, obvious needs. So there are the international problems, be it Afghanistan or China. You’re thinking of healthcare, where the lack of a confirmed FDA commissioner is clearly an issue.
The director of the Office of Management and Budget isn’t that obvious, but I think it’s a really fundamental role. There is very little in the federal government that focuses on the enterprise as a whole, but the Office of Management and Budget is. It’s a small agency when you think about the whole government, but it’s the nerve center, and not having a confirmed director is a problem.
Let’s take Afghanistan as a case study. How does the lack of confirmed positions hurt us there?
It’s impossible to prove causation, but we don’t have an ambassador to Afghanistan, and while ambassadors aren’t everything, they are your main point of contact in any given country. And yes, there are a lot of people involved in Afghanistan, but you’d want to have every resource you can get, and that’s one of them. I’m looking at the list of unconfirmed positions that may be needed there: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy, there is no candidate. Assistant Secretary for Conflict and Stabilization Operations. Someone has been nominated and reported, but they are waiting. Not good. The list continues. There will be someone there, but they have acting abilities. That’s just not a recipe for the best we need for our desks.