Dysfunctional…burdensome…ineffective…onerous…duplicative. These are all words that have been used to describe the massive amount of paperwork required of a political appointee. And, if you have been nominated to a position requiring Senate confirmation, there will be an additional detailed questionnaire from the committee with jurisdiction over your nomination.
A long line of Presidents, Senators, think-tanks, scholars, and experts in public administration have called for ways to speed up the confirmation process to get nominees on the job more quickly. We all recall September 11, 2001, the terrible day when terrorists attacked the nation. What is not often remembered is that President Bush did not have his national security team confirmed and at their jobs until at least six months after the inauguration. More recently, President Obama’s Secretary of the Treasury had to navigate the worst of the financial crisis without a number of the department’s critical appointees in place.
Further, the amount of paperwork and the length of the nomination and confirmation process, along with the risk of public embarrassment and potential toxic political environments, is thought to drive away some of the best qualified and most talented individuals from pursuing high-level government positions.
Recognizing the problems stemming from an unwieldy, lengthy, and uncertain confirmation process, Congress passed the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011, which exempted 169 appointments from being confirmed by the Senate. This should make additional Senate resources available to focus on the more than 1,100 remaining appointments requiring their attention.
The Act also established the Working Group on Streamlining Paperwork for Executive Nominations and directed it to seek ways to ease the paperwork burden on nominees and to develop a “smart form” designed to populate all the various questionnaires with a single answer provided by the nominee. This would help with some of the most fundamental challenges of the confirmation process, such as the fact that even one’s name had to be provided in different formats depending on the questionnaire.
As a former Director of the US Office of Personnel Management, I am a member of this Working Group, which is expertly chaired by Lisa Brown of the Office of Management and Budget. The Working Group is comprised of a bipartisan assembly of current and former government officials with expertise in the nominations process. The panel included representatives of every agency involved in the appointments process: the White House Office of Presidential Personnel, the Office of Personnel Management, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Office of Government Ethics.
With all of the varied points of view represented by the working group, it was surprisingly easy to conclude that the time has come to improve the confirmation process and to arrive at consensus on the following recommendations:
It is important to note that such an electronic system, no matter how well designed, will only work if all parties agree to the set of core questions described above. Otherwise, the great potential of such a system will be lost, as it will be reduced to simply automating an already-broken system.
The time has come. Everyone involved in the nomination and confirmation process has acknowledged that the process must be streamlined and nominees must move through the process more expeditiously. The Working Group has offered a solid plan to launch the reform process and we eagerly await the reaction of the Executive Branch agencies and the Senate.
The Honorable Janice R. Lachance has been the Chief Executive Officer of Special Libraries Association since 2003. Nominated by President William J. Clinton and unanimously confirmed by the US Senate, Janice is a former Director of the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the federal government’s independent human resources agency. Janice is a Fellow and Member of the Board of Directors of the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA).