If only George Nesterczuk had waited a few days, his view of the Senate confirmation process might have improved.
On Monday, he withdrew as President Trump’s nominee to direct the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), a relatively small agency that can have an outsize influence for good or bad.
Among the reasons cited in his withdrawal letter to Trump was “the current climate when even non-controversial nominees endure extensive delays in the Senate.”
Those delays disappeared for more than five dozen nominees Thursday when the Senate approved their appointments. While Nesterczuk would not have been included in that group, the Senate action certainly improved things for the Trump administration. It continues to lag behind, however, the Obama administration’s pace for making needed appointments.
As the Trump administration approaches its 200th day next Monday, a Partnership for Public Service report released last Monday says “President Trump lags well behind all of his recent predecessors both on the number of people nominated for critical leadership positions and those confirmed. As of July 31, Trump has nominated 255 people out of the more than 1,100 positions requiring Senate confirmation, and the Senate has confirmed just 51 of those nominees. Today, the average time for the Senate to confirm an appointee is 46 days, a timeframe that also lags behind historic norms.”
The number confirmed got a big boost after the report was issued, but the number of people Trump has nominated at this point still trails other recent administrations.
At the time of the August Senate recess, which began Thursday, Barack Obama had submitted 433 nominations; George W. Bush, 414; Bill Clinton, 345 and George H.W. Bush 315, according to the partnership’s appointments tracker compiled in conjunction with The Washington Post.
“While the pace of nominations for political appointees has picked up in recent weeks, critical leadership positions remain vacant at almost every agency and department,” Max Stier, the partnership’s president and chief executive, said before Thursday’s rush of confirmations. “The president must prioritize getting his full team in place. Doing so will strengthen his ability to run the government, achieve his priorities and deal effectively with the inevitable crises that will take place in our complicated and dangerous world.”
Setting aside for the moment Trump’s inability to run the White House without turmoil, his disastrous policies and self-inflicted crises, forwarding nominations and getting people confirmed is critical for any administration.
Kathleen McGettigan, the OPM acting director, is praised by those who know her work. But acting leaders, particularly career employees such as McGettigan, do not have the same level of real power inside and outside their agencies as those who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
OPM has been without a confirmed director for more than two years, since Katherine Archuleta resigned under pressure after a massive data breach that resulted in the theft of personal information belonging to 22 million federal employees, retirees, applicants and family members.
The agency is still dealing with the aftermath of the breach. A Government Accountability Office report released Thursday says OPM “has taken actions to prevent, mitigate, and respond to data breaches involving sensitive personal and background investigation information, but actions are not complete.”
Beth Cobert was acting director from July 2015 until Trump became president, but she never acted like an acting director. She entered the agency after having already exercised some authority over federal personnel matters as a top leader at the Office of Management and Budget. She was nominated to be OPM director by Obama and had broad bipartisan congressional support. Her confirmation, however, was blocked by one senator on grounds that had nothing to do with her.
Nesterczuk’s letter said he withdrew because “recent partisan attacks threaten to delay further the consideration of my nomination.” Yet the only “attack” we could find was a letter from 16 unions with federal employee members. Chief among their complaints was Nesterczuk’s involvement with the Pentagon’s much-criticized National Security Personnel System that was repealed by Congress in 2009.
Reached by email, Nesterczuk would not elaborate on his reasons for withdrawing. He did say it is “quite possible” that all of his required paperwork had not been submitted, which would delay the process.
While the White House had no comment on his withdrawal, it was welcomed by Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the second-ranking House Democrat, who has many federal employees in his suburban Maryland district.
“The nomination of Mr. Nesterczuk to serve in such a critical role was yet another example of how the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans continue to denigrate and undermine the work of our tireless federal civilian workforce,” Hoyer’s statement said. “From attempting to reduce the deficit on the backs of federal employees to reinstating the Holman Rule, Republicans have continually sought to attack the federal workforce.”
The Holman Rule allows Congress to stop the pay of individual federal employees without going through regular civil service procedures that are designed to preserve due-process protections.
“I urge the Trump Administration to give up their attacks on our dedicated workforce,” Hoyer added, “and promptly nominate a qualified candidate — one that will stand up for our hardworking federal employees and provide support for the civilian workforce — to lead this critically important agency.”