Nominations Move Forward, While Acting Secretaries Run Agencies

According to The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, of 564 key positions requiring Senate confirmation, there is not yet a nominee for 384 of them; 4 are awaiting nomination; 130 have been formally nominated, and 46 have been confirmed. The partnership, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, is tracking more than 500 key executive branch nominations, including Cabinet secretaries, deputy and assistant secretaries, chief financial officers, general counsel, heads of agencies, ambassadors, and other critical leadership positions, through the confirmation process. These are a portion of the roughly 1,200 positions that require Senate confirmation, not to mention the more than 3,000 other positions an administration fills.

As the summer unfolds, we are beginning to see increased nominations activity. For example, in the last seven days, there have been 41 updates, including the Senate confirming Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chair Kristine Svinicki, Senate committees reporting out favorably five nominees and holding hearings on others, and President Trump nominating or announcing people for nearly 30 other Senate-confirmable positions.

Once nominees are actually announced, presidential appointments are taking an average of 43 days to confirm. In the meantime, the administration is moving full-speed ahead on filling positions that do not require Senate confirmation. Many of the number two and number three positions, such as principal deputy assistant secretaries, across agencies are staffed, leaving them to serve as acting assistant secretaries and run offices while the confirmable positions remain vacant. We have two theories about this phenomenon. First, the Trump Administration could be having a hard time finding people to serve. Second, the administration may have a difficult time attracting people to go through the necessary, lengthy, process of filling out paperwork, attending to ethics questions, and addressing conflicts. As a result, career staff and others are avoiding Senate scrutiny by being named to the number two and three positions, where, without a number one, they play the role of acting secretaries.