THE 2000 RECOMMENDATIONS: A STATUS REPORT
In its 2000 report Science and Technology in the National Interest: the Presidential Appointment Process, the National Academies put forward three major recommendations. These addressed the need to speed appointments to key leadership positions in science and technology (S&T), accelerate the appointment process for all S&T nominees, and enrich the universe of available candidates by lowering the financial and occupational barriers to their service in government.
To what extent have the recommendations been reflected in White House appointments and in executive branch and congressional initiatives? This paper outlines what has and has not happened and provides a list of relevant studies, testimony, books, and articles on the subject that have emerged since publication of the report.
The 2000 Recommendations
Recommendation 1: Initiate the appointment process for key S&T leadership early.
This recommendation suggested that presidential candidates, before the election, name advisers with S&T expertise to
their provisional transition teams. After the election, the winning candidate, assisted by those advisers, should quickly identify a well-credentialed, well-suited person to be nominated for the position of assistant to the president for science and technology (APST). During the transition, the president-elect and the transition team should consult that person on vital S&T issues, on S&T strategic planning, and on identifying and nominating qualified candidates for appointive S&T posts.
Response: The principal Bush transition team did not include anyone with S&T expertise. But some members of subsidiary teams did have S&T backgrounds, such as Richard Mather Russell, later appointed associate director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. However, he was not nominated for that position until October 2001, and his confirmation came almost a year later, in August 2002.
About 6 months after his inauguration, President Bush announced his nominee as Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Post, John H. Marburger III. In October 2001, the Senate confirmed Dr. Marburger, and he officially took over the job several months later. By way of comparison, the Senate confirmed President Clinton’s nomination for the OSTP position, on January 28, 1993, Dr. John Gibbons, 8 days after inauguration. In the George H.W. Bush administration, Allan Bromley was confirmed on August 3, 1989, 8 months after that president’s inauguration.
Recommendation 2: Increase the breadth and depth of the pool of candidates by reducing the financial and vocational obstacles to government service.
As envisaged by this recommendation, the president and Congress should create a bipartisan framework or dialogue in which the executive branch, Congress, and the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) are represented to identify steps by both branches of government to increase the pool of qualified persons willing to
consider presidential appointment. Those measures would clarify and standardize pre-employment requirements and postemployment restrictions on appointees and reduce unreasonable financial and professional losses for appointees.
Response: A small number of administration actions and legislative proposals focused on pre-employment requirements and postemployment restrictions and financial reporting as subjects for reform. Such reforms have not been fully implemented.
President Clinton’s Executive Order 13184 revoked his earlier Executive Order 12834 which had extended postemployment restrictions on certain lobbying activities for up to 5 years for Senate-confirmed appointees at executive levels V and VI.
In April 2001, OGE published a Report on Improvements to the Financial Disclosure Process for Presidential Nominees. The report had been mandated by the Presidential Transition Act of 2000. It proposed changes in the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 that would reduce the number of asset valuation categories, shorten select reporting periods, trim the scope of reporting by raising some dollar thresholds, reduce the collection of details that are unnecessary for conflict analysis, and eliminate redundant reporting. In July 2003, OGE incorporated those changes in proposed legislation “to amend the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 (5 U.S.C. App.) to modernize the financial disclosure process for Federal Personnel, and for other purposes.” Congressional committees reacted favorably to the OGE legislative proposal, but Congress has not acted on it.
OGE also asked Senate committees responsible for appointee confirmation not to require additional financial-disclosure information from nominees. OGE was able to persuade some committees to approve a simpler OGE disclosure form for nominees for positions in which they will serve less than 60 days per year. But in general, each relevant Senate committee continues to require additional disclosure information.
On February 18, 2003, OGE published a proposed rule at 68 FR 7843-7892 that would provide comprehensive guidance concerning executive branch postemployment restrictions.
In Congress, Senator Fred Thompson in December 2001 introduced a bill dealing with financial disclosure and postemployment restrictions on appointees (the Presidential Appointments Act of 2002). It would have revised financial-disclosure requirements for appointees covered under the Ethics in Government Act, but it failed to pass the Senate. In April 2003, Sen. George Voinovich introduced a similar bill in another attempt at reform; Representative Jo Ann Davis sponsored a comparable bill in the House. Both bills were titled the Presidential Appointments Improvement Act of 2003. The new proposal would streamline financial-disclosure forms for executive branch employees, require agencies to review the number of presidentially appointed positions, allow presidential candidates to obtain a list of appointive positions 15 days after receiving their parties’ nominations, and require a review by OGE of the legal framework governing conflict-of-interest laws.
In 2001, the congressionally chartered US Commission on National Security (the “Hart-Rudman commission”) published Road Map for National Security. It called for a reduction in paperwork for candidates who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate (PAS) candidates and in the number of positions requiring full Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) background checks, and it suggested that the number of alternatives to complete divestiture of financial or business holdings be increased to give appointees more options for avoiding potential conflicts of interest.
Recommendation 3: Accelerate the approval process for all nominees for S&T positions.
This recommendation proposed that the White House, in collaboration with the Senate, adopt as a goal the completion of the
nomination and confirmation process within 4 months after inauguration for 80-90 percent of PAS nominees. The administration should streamline the FBI background-check process by taking into account the results of previous such investigations. The White House should also improve its tracking of the progress of nominations during the phases of the process that it controls so that it can report to candidates on the status of their nominations in a regular and timely way.
Response: Overall, nomination and appointment of candidates in the George W. Bush administration took longer after inauguration than in three previous administrations between 1984 and 1999. During that time, an average of 45 percent of appointments were completed within 4 months after inauguration. In the current Bush administration, only 28 percent of the nominees in the first round of appointments were confirmed within 4 months after inauguration; 72 percent took 5 months or longer.
It is a different story where Senate confirmation is concerned. “Confirmation countdown” data compiled by the Presidential Appointment Initiative of the Brookings Institution described the length of the confirmation process in the inaugural year (it was last updated on November 22, 2002). The data show that the Senate confirmed 79 percent of Bush administration nominees within 4 months after the announcement of intention to appoint. The rest of the confirmations took 5 months or more to complete.2
The definition of time to confirm is the period from the announcement date to the appointments confirmation date. Of the 419 confirmed in the Brookings data, 407 had complete dates for both announcement and confirmation; 407 is the number used for the calculation of the percentages reported. This calculation does not include “second round” appointees (not in the inaugural year), which represented seven additional confirmations. http://www.appointee.brookings.org/resourcecenter/resourcecenter.htm
Some streamlining of the appointee-approval process was achieved with the release of Nomination Forms online software on February 5, 2002. The software was developed as a part of the White House 2001 Project under the guidance of Presidential Scholars Terry Sullivan and Martha Kumar as a part of the Presidential Appointee Initiative and the Transition to Governing Project. The software reduces the need for duplicate information forms by allowing appointees to fill out all the forms on their computers. The software automatically distributes basic information—such as name, address, social security number, marital status, and position for which the person is being nominated—to all the appropriate forms.
There is no evidence of any attempt to systematically keep nominees informed on the progress of their nominations.
Relevant Studies, Testimony, Books, and Articles Since the 2000 National Academies Report
Chronicle of Higher Education. 2001. “Prime Numbers”
Abstract: Features the Brookings Institution Presidential Appointee Initiative survey Posts of Honor: How America’s Corporate and Civic Leaders View Presidential Appointments, which focused on college presidents in the United States. Includes the percentage of college presidents who have been candidates for presidential appointment, the percentage who would accept appointment if offered, and the percentage who have worked in the government in any capacity other than as an appointed or elected official.
American Enterprise Institute press release. 2002. “New Software Eases Task of Completing Forms for Presidential Appointees”
Abstract: Describes the Nomination Forms Online software created to reduce duplication of information forms required of presidential nominees.
Barnes, James A. 2001. “Selecting the Players.” National Journal
Abstract: An interview with Clay Johnson, director of the Office of Presidential Personnel in the first 2 years of the George W. Bush administration about the nomination of presidential appointees. Discusses the significance of knowing the personal history of a candidate and the effect of partisan control of the Senate on processing presidential nominations.
Bell, Lauren C. 2002. Warring Factions: Interest Groups, Money, and the New Politics of Senate Confirmation. Ohio State University Press.
Abstract: Focuses on the Senate process of confirming presidential nominees. Discusses the history, evolution, and, arguably, decline of the process. Shows the extent to which interest groups and money have transformed the Senate’s confirmation process. Based on in-depth research, including 2 dozen original interviews with senators, former senators, Senate staff members, and interest-group leaders.
The Transition to Government Project. 2002. Brookings Institution, American Enterprise Institute, Hoover Institution
Abstract: Describes the Transition to Government Project, a 3-year, three-phase endeavor begun in 2000 to improve the transition from campaigning to governing, including how a president-elect can effectively transition into office, the effect of outside interest groups on campaigning and governing, media coverage, improvements in the appointments process, and development of the software that reduces duplication in information forms that presidential nominees must complete.
Burtless, Gary. 2002. How Much is Enough? Setting Pay for Presidential Appointees. Brookings Institution Press
Abstract: Examines the salaries and nonwage compensation offered to presidential appointees and considers
whether they are generous enough to attract the best candidates. Compares compensation packages for executive branch officials with those offered to their counterparts in the private sector and looks at how today’s federal compensation packages compare with those offered in the past.
Connell, Christopher. 2000. A Survivor’s Guide for Presidential Nominees. The Council for Excellence in Government and Presidential Appointee Initiative of the Brookings Institution. Brookings Institution Press
Abstract: Designed to help people accept the call to service by providing nonpartisan information on what has become an increasingly complicated, and sometimes confusing, appointment process.
Dickinson, Matthew J., and Tenpas, Kathryn D. 2002. Explaining Increasing Turnover Rates Among Presidential Advisers, 1929–1997. Journal of Politics
Abstract: Describes what the authors call the transformation of the presidential electoral process from a party-controlled to a media-driven, candidate-centered system that has made it increasingly difficult for presidents to meld governing and campaigning expertise within a single White House-centered advisory organization because the skills needed to win office are increasingly divorced from those needed to govern effectively.
Gerhardt, Michael J. 2002. The Federal Appointments Process: A Constitutional and Historical Analysis. Duke University Press
Abstract: Includes each US president’s performance record regarding appointments, accounts of virtually all the major confirmation contests, and discussion of important legal and constitutional questions raised throughout US history. Analyzes recess appointments, the Vacancies Act, the function of nominees in the appointment process, and
the different treatment of judicial and nonjudicial nominations. In discussing the important roles played by mass media and technology in federal appointments, puts particular controversies in perspective and identifies important trends in the process.
Glynn, Marilyn L. 2004. Comments to the National Committee on Ensuring the Best Presidential and Federal Advisory Committee Science and Technology Appointments, Office of Government Ethics
Abstract: Acting director of the US Office of Government Ethics discusses the effects of ethics rules on presidential appointments to federal science and technology positions and federal advisory committees.
Greenberg, Daniel S. 2001. The Bush White House: Science Advice Still Out in the Cold. Lancet
Abstract: Discusses the position of the Bush administration on such issues as environmental protection and embryonic stem-cell research.
Hogue, Henry. 2002. Presidential Appointments to Full-Time Positions in Executive Departments During the 107th Congress, 2001-2002. Congressional Research Service
Abstract: An overview of the presidential appointment process. Lists, for the first session of the 107th Congress, all nominations to full-time positions in the 14 executive departments. In profiles of the departments, tracks nominations, providing information on Senate activity (confirmations, rejections, returns to the president, and elapsed time between nomination and confirmation) and further related presidential activity (withdrawals and recess appointments); identifies positions requiring Senate confirmation, incumbents in those positions, dates they were confirmed, dates their terms expire, if applicable, and pay levels.
Light, Paul, and Merchant, Sherra. 2002. The Brookings Presidential Appointee Initiative. Brookings Institution Press
Abstract: Describes the initiative, which had the goals of helping new appointees to negotiate the appointment process, reducing the obstacles for future appointees, and encouraging support for public service; produced a guide and other materials for new appointees and for those considering appointments; generated policy briefs and hosted forums on topics related to the three goals; and commissioned two surveys by the Princeton Survey Research Associates of past appointees. The project concluded its activities on June 30, 2003.
Light, Paul C. 2002. Our Tottering Confirmation Process. Public Interest
Abstract: Examines the presidential appointment process, with background on the confirmation process, analysis of the confirmed appointees of several presidents, causes of delays in the confirmation process, and the role of the Senate.
Light, Paul C. 2001. The Glacial Pace of Presidential Appointments, Wall Street Journal, Eastern Edition
Abstract: Examines the slowness of the presidential appointment process.
Mackenzie, G.C., Ed. 2001. Innocent Until Nominated: The Breakdown of the Presidential Appointments Process. Brookings Institution Press
Abstract: Examines various aspects of the presidential appointment process, with contributions by Mackenzie, James P. Pfiffner, George C. Edwards, Stephen Hess, Burdett Loomis, Sarah A. Binder, Terry Sullivan, Judith M. Labiner, and Paul C. Light.
Mackenzie, G.C., and Hafken, Michael. 2002. Scandal Proof: Do Ethic Laws Make Government More Ethical?
Abstract: Explores the process that led to current ethics regulation in the federal executive branch. Assesses whether efforts to scandal-proof the federal government have been successful, what they have cost, and whether reforms should be considered. Describes the radical differences between the public-service environment of yesteryear and today’s heavy regulatory atmosphere and provides an overview of government corruption and integrity in America through 1960. Describes the evolution of the regulatory process and political factors that have led to its current state, assesses the substance of existing ethics regulations and the size, cost, and complexity of the enforcement infrastructure. Uses survey research and other empirical data from various executive branch scandals to measure the efficacy of current ethics regulations.
Office of Government Ethics. 2001. Report on Improvements to the Financial Process for Presidential Nominees
Abstract: Makes recommendations to Congress to simplify financial disclosure required of presidential nominees by reducing the number of valuation categories, shortening some reporting periods, limiting the scope of reporting by raising some dollar thresholds, reducing details that are unnecessary for conflict analysis, and eliminating redundant reporting.
Schultz, Stacey. 2002. No One at the Helm. U.S. News & World Report
Abstract: Discusses the lack of leadership in the US Food and Drug Administration, the resignation of Commissioner Jane Henney, and how politics have stalled the appointment of a replacement.
The National Commission for the Public Service. 2003. Urgent Business for America: Revitalizing the Federal Government for the 21st Century. Brookings Institution Press
Abstract: Includes recommendations for the reform of the presidential appointment process, including greater bipartisanship and reduction in the number of executive branch positions.
The Presidential Appointee Initiative: A Project of the Brookings Institution. 2003. To Make A Difference. Brookings Institution Press
Abstract: A brochure produced by the Brookings Presidential Appointee Initiative for people who might be considering seeking or accepting a presidential appointment.
The United States Commission on National Security/21st Century. 2001. Road Map for National Security: Imperative for Change. The Phase III Report of the US Commission on National Security/21st Century (The Hart/Rudman Report)
Abstract: Outlines reform of the presidential appointment process as part of an objective to launch a national campaign for service to the nation, raising the prestige of national service.
Voinovich, George. 2003. Update the Long-Outdated Approval Process. Roll Call
Abstract: Outlines the thrust of the Ohio senator’s new bill, S. 765, and recounts events related to attempts to reform the appointment process during the 107th Congress; underscores the need for reform of current financial reporting requirements for appointees.