- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2001

The Bush team is discovering just how tough it can be to set up a new administration.
Four months after Inauguration Day, just 56 — or 11 percent — of the 490 senior government administrators needing Senate confirmation have been confirmed and taken office.
As of last week, deputy secretaries for the departments of agriculture, commerce, energy, housing and urban development, interior, labor, Treasury and veterans affairs are still not confirmed. The shift of power to Democrats in the Senate reportedly will make it harder for President Bush to have some of his candidates accepted quickly.
Whats more, the administration has yet to produce candidates for 289 top positions, reports Regelio Garcia of the Congressional Research Service. And there are hundreds of other, lesser positions to be filled in the governments 91 independent agencies and corporations.
Policy analysts and scholars who track the progress of presidential appointments say that given the current rate of progress in filling vital administration posts, the Bush team will not have its government in place until February. They call the situation "alarming."
Most students of the government-transition process acknowledge that President Bushs people are trying hard to get their people in place. But some contend that the presidential appointments system is antiquated and nonsensical.
Critics of the system are calling for radical changes like reducing the number of positions the president must fill and the number of Senate hearings on nominees. Theyre insisting that lawmakers institutionalize the transition process and see that nominees are investigated and vetted in order of importance, which is not now done.
"Bush supporters and everyone who cares about the regulatory activity of government should be outraged," says Paul Light, a Brookings Institution vice president and senior adviser to the organizations Presidential Appointee Initiative. The Brookings initiative is a nonpartisan project aimed at focusing attention on what a press release calls an "irrevocably broken" appointments process.
"Without an administrations leaders in place," Mr. Light says, "a government continues to do what it did before. The bureaucracies are like Energizer bunnies, doing what they did last year. The American public may not care. Most people think the government is stupid anyhow, so theyre not surprised. But foreign nations are losing faith that the United States can, in a reasonable time, establish a government they can confidently deal with. The appointments process has never been worse."
G. Calvin MacKenzie, a professor of government at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, agrees.
"It took the first Bush administration 8.1 months to get its government in place, and it took President Clinton 8.5 months," he says. "On average, the Senate confirmed President Reagans nominees in 30 days. That went to 43 days in the Clinton administration. Its clear the whole process is slowing."
By the time President Reagan had been in office 100 days, he had nominated 138 candidates for senior positions and had 74 confirmed. In a similar period, President Clinton had nominated 154 and had 47 confirmed.
The current President Bush had nominated 79 and had 32 confirmed in 100 days. On the 101st day, he sent the names of 61 nominees to the Senate, and a logjam resulted.
There are many reasons for the situation that is slowing government transition.
The kind of Senate squabbling that stalled the confirmation of Theodore B. Olson to be solicitor general is part of the problem. So is what an aide to Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, calls the Bush teams "caution." He explains, "Bushs people are taking the whole security clearance process more seriously than the previous administration."
But it goes far beyond that.
Mr. Bushs recruiters are finding that many of the top people they identify and invite to become members of the administration are refusing the offer. They consider the appointment process — with all its forms, politicking and probing — too complex, intrusive and disconcerting. Even those who have successfully navigated the system complain about it.
Mr. Light and others explain, for instance, that the investigation of candidates for appointment is outdated and based on Cold War considerations.
The extensive national security review that President Eisenhower began requiring of all major job candidates requires a list of all foreign countries the candidate has visited in the past 15 years. FBI agents ask where the candidates parents traveled and such things as whether the candidate or his family ever associated with members of the Communist Party. Friends and neighbors are questioned extensively.
Since the investigative work is so extensive, the FBI recalls retired agents to help. They pay temporary agents on a daily rate. "And as you can imagine, when working on a daily rate, they are thorough," says Mr. Light.
Mr. Light says it take longer to investigate a candidate who has been previously investigated than one who hasnt. Thats because the FBI then wants to review the record of the past investigation, comparing old and new answers to detect possible lies. "And pity the fool who got remarried and the previous mother-in-law has derogatory remarks about her former son-in-law. That raises a red flag and creates complication," says Mr. Light.
Candidates are investigated on a first-come, first-served basis. And the Senate considers nominees in a more or less random fashion that results from hearing-schedule clashes and political finagling. Not since President Reagans staff successfully insisted that certain job candidates be investigated and approved before others has any president managed to demand that the nominees he considered most important get priority consideration.
Members of the Presidential Appointments Initiative and certain members of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee are considering ways to remedy the situation. So far it has been suggested that the list of nearly 500 jobs requiring presidential appointment and the list of nearly 6,500 other jobs requiring political appointment could be trimmed, and that the office of presidential personnel should be expanded to expedite hiring.
Then too, those studying the appointments process question the requirement that someone picked by the president to be, say, an assistant secretary for public affairs undergo the same long, intense and expensive background checks as a nominee for a super-sensitive Defense Department position. They also challenge the notion that all top nominees need to be questioned at public hearings.
"What we have to do is rethink the entire process. Its too late for Mr. Bush, but we should fix the system for 2004 and 2005," Mr. Light says.


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