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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 03/22/2012

Senate should quickly confirm nominees, panel says


Then-CIA Director Leon Panetta waits to testify last June at his Senate confirmation hearing to become defense secretary. (Jim Young - REUTERS)
The Senate should swiftly confirm 150 of the most sensitive presidential appointments within the first 100 days of a new White House administration — and “measuring the drapes” should become the political norm and not a campaign attack line, according to a new blue-ribbon commission.

On average, 35 percent of the top 100 political positions are filled in the first 100 days of a new presidency, including just eight of the 35 most critical national security positions, according to the Aspen Institute Commission to Reform the Federal Appointments Process, a nonpartisan group that released a report on the issue Wednesday.

Out of concern for the world’s modern-day geopolitical and economic crises and the politicized nature of the Senate confirmation process, the panel, led by former senators Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Charles S. Robb (D-Va.) and veterans of the Clinton and Bush administrations echoed the conclusions of at least 15 other groups convened in the past three decades to explore allegations that the federal appointments process is dysfunctional and too-often rushed.

The commission includes Clay Johnson, White House personnel director for George W. Bush; former Clinton White House chiefs of staff Mack McLarty and John Podesta; former FBI director William Webster; and Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post.

Despite the commission’s concerns, the Senate has moved to ease the transition process in recent years. Last year, senators approved a deal to trim the number of presidential appointments requiring a confirmation; the plan awaits a vote in the House. And in response to security and economic crises of the past decade, a federal law passed in 2010 will for the first time this year provide federal office space and expedited security clearances to the staffs of the major-party presidential nominees in order to set the transition process in motion before Election Day.

But presidential nominees too often “must navigate an archaic, unnecessarily burdensome and time-consuming background information process during their vetting and consideration for confirmation,” the panel wrote, adding that “too much of the delay is caused by systemic shortcomings that could and should be remedied, without playing politics or interfering with the prerogatives of the President or the Senate.”

In the future — whether President Obama or his Republican opponent wins the presidency this year — the panel said the Senate should confirm at least 100 of the most “time-sensitive presidentially-appointed positions” by May 1, or roughly the 100th day of a new presidential term. The 400 most-sensitive slots should be filled by August.

The panel said the new president would determine the most time-sensitive jobs “based on their priorities and the current challenges and opportunities awaiting them.”

Before an election and subsequent transition, the commission said, major-party presidential candidates should agree to fill top positions by August of their first year and to assign aides the task of quickly identifying and tapping nominees. Presidential candidates also “should refrain from accusing other candidates who take these steps of ‘measuring the drapes in the Oval Office,’ ” the panel said.

White House officials and the offices of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined Wednesday to comment on the report.

The recommendations echo similar proposals advanced in recent years by other nonpartisan groups. A Senate panel last week considered several ideas, including one from the nonpartisan No Labels group that said a presidential nominee should be confirmed by default after three months if the Senate doesn’t hold an up or down vote. The nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service has also recommended that the Senate confirm a president’s top 50 picks on day one and the 500 most-critical posts by the August recess.

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

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By  |  06:00 AM ET, 03/22/2012

 
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