Do you think the administrator of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. should require a Senate background check and confirmation vote before taking office? How about the commissioner of the Office of Navajo and Hopi Relocation? The alternate federal co-chairman of the Appalachian Regional Commission?
Senate Majority Harry M. Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., don’t, either.
Staffing the executive branch has become almost impossible. Although, according to some tallies, President Obama outpaced his predecessors in the first few months of his tenure, the Senate confirmation process has become an all-consuming monster for everyone involved, eating time, money and the enthusiasm of potential nominees to enter government service. All face excessive and often redundant vetting — involving FBI background checks, scrubbing of old tax records and scrutiny of one’s private life that few would find fair.
Once that’s done, senators can place “holds” on nominees, derailing their confirmation indefinitely, often for reasons unrelated to the nominees’ qualifications. The confirmation process doesn’t just harm the executive branch; it slows the Senate, which has to consider 1,400 nominations — far more than in decades past.
Past efforts to fix the system haven’t worked. But a bill in the Senate now would help. Co-sponsored by Sens. Reid and McConnell and a group of other prominent lawmakers, it would streamline the vetting process, unifying currently redundant questionnaire forms, for example. It would also eliminate Senate confirmation for 200 executive-branch officials and lower the hurdle for 200 others. Conservative critics claim that the bill would abrogate essential checks on the executive branch. But it hardly curtails Congress’ power to ease the appointment of public relations personnel, financial officers and part-time advisory board members.
If anything, the bill wouldn’t do enough to end the irrationality of the confirmation system.
— St. Cloud Times