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In the Loop: Obama Administration Filling Top Jobs Quickly

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By Al Kamen
Friday, July 3, 2009

The Obama administration is closing in on its first six months in office -- the apparently insignificant first 200 days will end Aug. 7, as the Senate takes off for its summer break. And while it appears that the pace of nominations has slacked off a bit of late, the White House team is easily within range of setting the world indoor record for nominations to the topmost ranks of the bureaucracy in the first half-year in office.

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As of Monday, President Obama's team had a total of 254 appointees either announced, nominated or confirmed by the Senate for top jobs. That's just over half the total 493 top jobs we're tracking in The Washington Post's tally -- see http://www.washingtonpost.com/headcount.

By way of general comparison, at the six-month mark, Ronald Reagan had nominated a record 282 people for those positions, with 210 confirmed. Team Obama should be able to eclipse the nominations record without breaking a sweat. And with 174 already confirmed, it has a shot at the confirmation record.

George W. Bush, with a shortened transition, had nominated 257 people for those posts, and 175 had been confirmed. Bill Clinton had only 209 nominations, with 170 confirmed.

Looking at the 16 statutory Cabinet agencies, while there are no "home alone" Cabinet members, some agencies are in better shape than others in terms of having the top sub-Cabinet people named. The numbers range from 81 percent announced, nominated or confirmed in the top ranks at the Agriculture Department to just 39 percent at the Commerce Department. Overall, the administration has publicly announced choices for 60 percent of the top Cabinet jobs.


Nail-biting time has begun for folks still awaiting top administration jobs. Has your nomination gone up to the Senate yet? No? That's too bad, because if not, it's most unlikely you're going to be on the federal payroll anytime soon. Maybe in the fall. Maybe not even then.

Sure, the Senate cleared a dozen nominations before leaving town last week, including some that had been stalled for a while. But there's still trouble ahead for you. One problem is that the Senate, back in session on Monday, is going to be around for only five weeks until its sacred summer recess.

In addition, the president has loaded up senators' plates with huge matters, including health-care reform, immigration, climate and things of that nature. Worse, Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Senate confirmation hearings, starting July 13, are going to lop a week off that five-week period.

Even in the best of times, it would be very difficult to get you a confirmation hearing and a Senate vote in just five weeks, and these are decidedly not the best of times. There will be exceptions, of course. If, for example, your name is Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) and even if you haven't yet been formally nominated to be secretary of the Army, you can expect a determined White House push to jam you through a hearing and a floor vote before the recess.

You might see a ray of hope with the election to the Senate of Al Franken (D-Minn.), which technically gives the Democrats the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster on nominees. But it's not likely that ailing Sens. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) are going to be brought in to vote on anything save the most essential legislation -- and, with all due respect, your nomination doesn't rank.

This means the Senate might get around to you in the fall, but that's historically a perilous time. Members get even crankier than usual. Critical votes on the most divisive matters start to pile up. The holidays beckon. Your dream-job prospects may languish into 2010.

So, sure, it's a pain, but best get all those burdensome forms filled out now.

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