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Presidential Appointments by the Numbers

SOURCE: AP/Ron Edmonds

History shows presidents often get stuck in the appointments process. President Obama must learn from their mistakes—or repeat them.

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Report: Let’s Get it Started: What President-Elect Obama Can Learn from Previous Administrations in Making Political Appointments

Recommendations: Six Ways that the Obama Administration Can Improve the Political Appointment Process

Once presidents take office, they typically make their picks for top positions such as cabinet heads quickly, but take much longer to select individuals for lower levels of the bureaucracy. Presidents may blame the Senate confirmation process. But the White House in fact takes far longer to nominate than for the Senate to confirm.

Positions do not stay occupied for long after they are filled. Many leave after just a few years of service. Their replacements again empty out near the end of a term or administration. Once vacant, agency positions, especially lower-level ones, are difficult to fill again. Sometimes, they are simply left vacant for long periods of time or staffed with an acting official for many months at the end of an administration.

Frequent and lengthy vacancies harm agency performance. For example, less than a year before Hurricane Katrina, more than one-third of FEMA’s policy positions were vacant, which may help explain FEMA’s poor response to the disaster.

The numbers below illustrate the difficulties past presidents have encountered in the appointments process and how critical it is for Obama to take steps to avoid these pitfalls. A new CAP report provides six simple and feasible reforms that can decrease the number and length of agency vacancies.

Past presidents have struggled to fill executive agency positions once they take office.

267: Average number of days it took President Bill Clinton to staff Senate-confirmed positions in executive agencies at the start of his administration.

242: Average number of days it took President George W. Bush to staff Senate-confirmed positions in executive agencies at the start of his administration.

194: Average number of days it took President Ronald Reagan to staff Senate-confirmed positions in executive agencies at the start of his administration.

163: Average number of days it took President George H.W. Bush to staff Senate-confirmed positions in executive agencies at the start of his administration.

New presidents tend to fill higher-level positions quickly, while staffing lower-level positions in cabinet departments and other executive agencies more slowly.

457: Average number of days it took President Clinton to fill deputy agency head positions.

452: Average number of days it took President Clinton to fill inspector general positions.

422: Average number of days it took President George W. Bush to fill technical positions.

420: Average number of days it took President Reagan to fill other low-level positions.

It typically takes presidents far longer to nominate executive agency leaders than for the Senate to confirm them.

173: Average number of days it took presidents to nominate non-agency heads from 1987 to 2005.

63: Average number of days it took the Senate to confirm these nominations during the same time period.

301: Average number of days it took presidents to nominate non-cabinet agency heads from 1987 to 2005.

82: Average number of days it took the Senate to confirm these nominations.

Executive agency positions were frequently vacant over the past five administrations.

25 percent: Average amount of time executive agency positions were vacant over the past five administrations.

50 percent: Approximate percentage of time executive agency positions were vacant in 1992 and 2000.

231: Average number of days Senate-confirmed positions had been left vacant at the end of the Clinton administration.

159: Average number of days Senate-confirmed positions had been left vacant at the end of the Reagan administration.

358: Average number of days undersecretary positions were vacant at the end of the Reagan administration.

341: Average number of days undersecretary positions were vacant at the end of the Clinton administration.

For more on CAP’s ideas for presidential appointments, please see:

 

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