National Affairs, Spring 2011
March 21, 2011
by Tevi Troy
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In May 2007, when I was nominated by President George W. Bush to serve as deputy secretary of Health and Human Services, a White House colleague came into my office with sobering counsel. On average, he said, it takes almost nine months for a nominee to an executive-branch position to get a vote in the Senate. Just when — and whether — the nominee gets that vote depends a great deal on the Senate's vacation schedule. The likelihood of confirmation, he explained, increases markedly just before one of the various congressional recesses (such as those for Memorial Day and Independence Day, or the August break). At any other time, a nominee's chances of being confirmed for any non-secretarial post are essentially nil.
In the end, I was lucky: I was confirmed right before the 2007 August recess. Some of my colleagues, however, did not make it in at that point; they were never confirmed. Nor were they ever formally rejected, for that matter. As President Bush's second term wound down, the Democratic Senate began running out the clock on pending nominees and slowed the process even more than usual.
This pattern was hardly unique to the Bush administration. Rather, it has been the normal course of the confirmation process for decades. It would be one thing if this dynamic applied only to judicial confirmations, and especially to those to the Supreme Court: After all, presidents should expect less deference from Congress when the two elected branches jointly fill the ranks of the third co-equal branch of government, granting lifetime appointments to judges. But when staffing an administration — making hiring decisions to fill departments and agencies very clearly under the authority of the executive — the president should have a right to expect significant deference, and, at the very least, swift up-or-down decisions on his nominees. . . .
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Tevi Troy is a Visiting Fellow at Hudson Institute and served as the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 2007 until 2009.
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