Treasury officials have played down the vacancies, saying that they have enough positions staffed with qualified people to carry out the administration’s mission effectively.
“We’re actually about where everybody is. It takes time,” said a Treasury official who requested that his name be withheld.
Staffers with the Senate Finance Committee, which must approve Treasury nominees before the full Senate can vote, did not respond to requests for comment on the record. But a senior committee aide privately complained that the White House has been slow to deliver paperwork on the nominees required for the panel’s vetting process.
With both parties on the committee vetting each nominee separately, the process can get backlogged easily.
“Of those confirmed, nearly all have been reported out or confirmed within eight weeks of the date [the committee] received their paperwork,” the aide said.
Committee member and staffers also have been bogged down in recent weeks drafting health care reform legislation, further delaying the confirmation process.
Treasury is not the only federal agency facing significant staff shortages. As of Oct. 1 - 255 days into Mr. Obama’s presidency - only 271 of the White House’ 403 nominees sent to the Senate for confirmation have been approved, according to the nonprofit White House Transition Project. Mr. Bush had secured the confirmation of 268 nominees by the same date in 2001 - his first year in office.
Many political analysts complain that the confirmation process is so cumbersome that speeding up the current system is almost impossible.
“The system of vetting, nomination and appointment has become totally dysfunctional,” said Bill Galston, a congressional analyst with the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution. “The disclosure requirements are ridiculous, and whichever political party happens to be in opposition uses delay as a political weapon.”
Mr. Obama’s first nominee for Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, withdrew after it was revealed that he had failed to pay $140,000 in taxes and interest.
Even presidential nominees who successfully win Senate approval are subjected to an exhaustive, drawn-out vetting and confirmation process that often reveals embarrassing personal skeletons.
The Senate eventually confirmed the president’s subsequent nominee to head HHS, Kathleen Sebelius, but only after she corrected three years of tax returns and paid $7,000 in back taxes for “unintentional errors.”
Mr. Geithner was confirmed only after extended questioning about irregularities in his tax records that surfaced during the nomination process.
“We need a new process, agreed to by both parties,” Mr. Galston said.