Thinking of snagging a top position in the Obama administration, one that needs Senate confirmation? Have you seen “The Wizard of Oz” lately?
But the reality is more “Night of the Living Dead” than yellow brick road. As Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who knows the problems first-hand — he was confirmed in 1991 as secretary of education — puts it: The nomination process “has degenerated into a time-consuming, unfair ordeal that creates an ‘innocent until nominated’ syndrome.” That’s why people call it a “gotcha game.”
But help is on the way. A high-powered bipartisan group of current and former experts in politics, technology and personnel — led by Lisa Brown, a senior official at the Office of Management and Budget, and including Obama, Bush II and Clinton administration personnel chiefs — has come up with solid recommendations to streamline the paperwork blizzard that confounds hapless jobseekers.
Sure, it’s another “working group,” but this one was authorized by a recently passed federal law. So this time may be different. Really.
The group — which includes FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce, Office of Government Ethics deputy general counsel Walter M. Shaub Jr. and former senators George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) — has been working closely with the 17 (that’s seventeen) Senate committees who confirm nominees, making sure there’s Senate buy-in.
The team’s recent report focuses on trimming and improving the forms applicants need to fill out on their bios and financial records.
Many of these various questionnaires haven’t really been updated for 60 years — though new questions are added after every dust-up. (Think nannies.)
Everyone’s favorite is the one on the basic government form that demands you list all the places you’ve ever traveled to. That was included in 1953, during the Cold War, when people didn’t travel nearly as much. Answering it now is a nightmare for many people.
And you may have to answer that question many times pre-nomination, and then for Senate consideration. Seems on average over half the questions on the existing administration and Senate forms are duplicated.
The working group recommends time limits be put on various questions about lawsuits, speeches, writings and so on and to narrow questions to the most relevant. That way you don’t have to list that post-college flophouse you stayed in for six months maybe 25 years ago on that street you can’t recall.
The group has developed a “common set of core questions,” Brown told us, that is “being fine-tuned now.” (It’s something like the common college application.) That way, you answer the basic questions once and the various committees can then ask additional questions specifically related to their concerns.
An “electronic smart form” is to be developed so the answers “would be transmitted automatically” to the various forms. (Now that would be a thing of beauty.)
But we’ve had so many reports over the years, why should anyone hope for change?
“There a sense among the working group that there’s an appetite for this right now,” Brown said. ”There’s been a very positive reaction” to the common set of questions, she said, and “everyone agrees that this is something that can be implemented immediately.”
Would save everyone — from the applicants to the Senate committees — a lot of time.
One can only hope.