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Lag in Filling Senior Policy Jobs at Treasury, HHS

Lag in Filling Senior Policy Jobs at Treasury, HHS

Department of Health and Human Services

Julie Pace | The Associated Press via YellowBrix

September 14, 2009

WASHINGTON — The White House has filled important policy jobs at the two departments essential to President Barack Obama’s domestic priorities at a much slower rate than elsewhere in his administration after eight months in charge of the government.

At the Treasury Department, which is overseeing one of the largest financial rescue plans in history, just 12 of the 33 high-level posts requiring Senate confirmation are filled. At the Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for responding to a potentially deadly swine flu outbreak this fall, eight people have been confirmed among the top 20 posts.

Only the Justice Department has a lower rate of confirmation. Other departments, including Transportation, Agriculture and Interior, have more than 60 percent of their top policymaking appointees in place.

While career employees temporarily fill some of the vacancies, there’s concern that the president doesn’t have enough of his own people in place to advance his ambitious agenda.

“It’s just not a healthy thing to have a large number of vacancies in a particularly uncertain time,” said Paul Light, a professor at New York University and expert on government bureaucracy. “It should concern us.”

Political appointees are nominated by the president and typically leave their posts when a new administration takes office. Career employees fill lower-ranking jobs and their tenure is unaffected by who’s in the White House.

By the end of August, Obama had nominated 243 people to the 385 high-ranking policymaking jobs at the Cabinet departments that require Senate confirmation, according to the White House Transition Project. The Senate has confirmed 193 of them.

That’s tracks with where Obama’s predecessors were at this point in their administrations, said Terry Sullivan, executive director of the Washington-based, independent nonpartisan program that follows presidential appointments.

Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, had 55 percent in place, though he had about 50 fewer jobs to fill.

The White House prefers to slice it a little differently to get themselves an even better grade.

The Obama White House says that by adding positions such as ambassadors and judges, who also require Senate confirmation, as well as lower-level political appointees that don’t, the administration is filling jobs 50 percent faster than any of the previous three presidents at the same stage in their administrations.

The project doesn’t track that list, and without Senate confirmation there is no way to follow them through votes in the Congressional Record.

Regardless of the Obama administration’s overall success, however, the high-level vacancies at Treasury and HHS are particularly striking.

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