Nine months later, White House won’t say whether it is even looking for a new SBA chief


Karen Mills, the former head of the Small Business Administration (far left, white suit), announced her resignation in February. President Obama has yet to nominate a replacement. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
November 27, 2013

In early 2012, President Obama elevated the head of the U.S. Small Business Administration to a cabinet-level position, a move he said would “make sure that small-business owners have their own seat at the table in our Cabinet meetings.”

One year later, on Feb. 11, 2013, SBA Administrator Karen Mills announced she was resigning her post, presumably prompting the administration to start searching for a replacement. Mills initially pledged to stay in place until that individual was found.

That was 289 days ago.

With no nominee selected, Mills gave up the wait at the end of August and left for a position at Harvard. For the past three months, Jeanne Hulit, the agency’s head of the Office of Capital Access, has held the agency’s top position on an interim, non-appointed basis. She is currently the only non-appointed representative on the president’s cabinet for whom he has not nominated a permanent successor.

By comparison, it took Obama only six weeks to nominate Mills following his election in 2008.

With no updates from the administration, some small business advocates have speculated that the president may not actually be looking to fill the position, noting that the he has proposed consolidating the SBA and five other federal agencies into a single business department. Others have offered a number of recommended candidates.

White House officials declined to comment on the process or why it is taking so long — and they would not confirm that they are even searching for a permanent replacement.

“The administration has had nine months to find a replacement, but simply hasn’t made it a priority,” Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), chairman of the House Small Business Committee, wrote in an e-mail to On Small Business, suggesting the longstanding vacancy is “confirmation of how the president feels about small business.”

John Arensmeyer, chief executive of Small Business Majority, a lobbying group, added that while he thinks the agency is in good hands under Hulit’s watch, his organization and the small business community would like to see the president nominate a permanent successor soon.

“We have asked about it a couple times, but we still haven’t heard anything,” he said, later noting that talk of consolidating the agency has died down since the president pitched the idea last January.

Meanwhile, Obama has made more than 270 other nominations in the more than nine months since Mills announced her resignation. One hundred of them have since been confirmed and taken office.

Here’s a look at some of the most important positions the administration has been able to fill during that period and how long it took to fill them.

• Obama nominated Gina McCarthy as the Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency on March 7, less than a month after former Administrator Lisa Jackson announced her resignation. McCarthy was confirmed on July 18.

• Obama nominated Ernest Moniz as the Secretary of Energy on March 7, about a month after former Secretary Steven Chu announced his resignation. Moniz was confirmed on May 16.

• Obama nominated Thomas Perez as Secretary of Labor on Mar. 19, a little more than two months after former Secretary Hilda Solis announced her resignation. Perez was confirmed on July 18.

• Obama nominated Anthony Foxx as Secretary of Transportation on May 7, about three months after former Secretary Ray Lahood announced his resignation. Foxx was confirmed on June 27.

• Obama nominated Penny Pritzker as Secretary of Commerce on May 9, about two months after Acting Secretary Rebecca Blank announced she was leaving. Pritzker was confirmed on June 25.

• Obama nominated John Koskinen as IRS Commissioner on Aug. 1, about two months after former Commissioner Steven Miller was forced to resign. Koskinen has not yet been confirmed.

• Obama nominated Janet Yellen as Chairman of the Federal Reserve on Oct. 9, nearly three months before current Chairman Ben Bernanke’s current term expires. Yellen has not yet been confirmed.

• On March 21, the Senate confirmed Sally Jewell as Secretary of the Interior. She had been nominated on Feb. 6, three weeks after former Secretary Ken Salazar announced his resignation.

• On April 8, the Senate confirmed Mary Jo White as Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission. She had been nominated on Jan. 24, two months after former Chair Mary Schapiro announced her resignation.

• On Feb. 26, the Senate confirmed Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. He had been nominated on Jan. 7, the same day former Secretary Leon Panetta formally announced his departure.

• During the past nine months, Obama has nominated and been given approval for several new judges, program directors and other agency officials. He has also tapped and the Senate has confirmed new ambassadors to more than two dozen countries, including Libya, Ukraine, Nigeria, Malaysia, Spain, Ethiopia, Denmark, Germany, Brazil, Peru, Lebanon, Australia, Belgium, Greece, Austria, South Africa, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.

Follow J.D. Harrison and On Small Business on Twitter.

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he manages the Post's On Small Business blog.
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