Reforming the Presidential Appointment Process
The presidential appointment system is broken. It's a problem that's unfair to both the appointee and to the President, and one that appears to be getting worse with each new administration. It is estimated that President Bush will have served his first year in office without one-fourth of his nominees. This is bad for our democracy.
When our system of government was designed more than two hundred years ago, the Founding Fathers realized that in order to do the work of the people, the efforts of elected officials would need to be supplemented by the service of non-elected public servants. In order to prevent them from abusing their significant power, our leaders included in the Constitution a requirement that certain high-ranking officials receive the advice and consent of the Senate in order to assume their influential positions. The theory behind this process was that even though the appointees themselves are not elected, the public can hold the President and Congress responsible for the appointee's actions while he or she serves the public interest.
Over time, our federal government has grown in complexity. The executive branch has expanded immensely, and Congress has been required to handle many more nominations than the Founding Fathers would ever have imagined. The entire appointment process has become so difficult, complex, intrusive, and expensive that some of the best-qualified people are reportedly turning down the opportunity to serve the public. Citing privacy concerns, severe post-employment restrictions, and the sometimes low public image of government officials, potential appointees are reluctant to enter the fray.
It is incumbent on the President and Congress to ensure that appointees meet exacting standards. But all too often the appointment process become mired in politics. Nominees face burdensome and duplicative paperwork, and confusing ethics laws which in large part have lost sight of their initial purpose. In fact, the process of recruiting and confirming nominees has evolved into a bureaucratic maze.
Senator Thompson believes that at some point we must stand up for the right of every nominee's privacy. While potential conflicts of interest need to be identified, It is neither the right, nor the responsibility, of Congress to divulge every intimate detail of a nominee's life to the public's insatiable appetite for knowledge.
As the former Chairman, and now-ranking Republican member of the Government Affairs Committee, Senator Thompson presided over hearings on the state of the presidential appointment process in 2001. During these hearings, those most familiar with the confirmation gauntlet presented thoughtful and reasoned testimony identifying ways to improve the process. Witnesses identified ways the White House could improve the way it addresses the issue. Senator Thompson came out of these hearings believing that in addition to the need for a different strategy from the executive branch, the Senate needed to take a look at a variety of ways to address the problem, including time, the holds process, and the many duplicative forms of the confirmation process.
Recently, the Presidential Appointee Initiative released a "Nominee's Bill of Rights," calling for Congress and the White House to treat nominees with fairness, courtesy and respect. Paul Light, Senior Adviser to the Presidential Appointee Initiative, noted, "If we believe ? as the founding fathers did ? that public service should be both a duty and an honor, the White House and Congress should make the process simple, fast, and as fair as possible."
Senator Thompson plans to lead the way in these Senate reforms and is preparing legislation to implement them. The ability of the President-elect to attract the best people to public service and put them to work is of critical importance. The process must be streamlined in order to make it easier for the President's nominees to accept appointments. The government should not be responsible for maintaining undue barriers to public service, and the President must not be asked to do the people's business with only a skeleton crew in place.
The first responsibility of government is the defense of the country, the people, and our way of life. And while it is clear we have a legal and constitutional obligation to build a National Missile Defense, we also have a moral responsibility to protect our country and our families.
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