Appointments

Summaries from Appointments Analyses at Two Years

This page provides a number of comparison documenting the pace of appointments in the current presidential transition. See descriptions below.

Highlights of Overall Findings

  • On nominations, the worst performance since transition records were kept (beginning with the congressional reform of the appointments process in 1978). The Trump administration has slipped nine months behind the average presidential administration.
  • On confirmations (and hence on filling policy leadership positions), the Trump administration remains around ten months behind previous administrations.

Pace of Nominations at Two Years
The average Presidency is seven months ahead of the Trump team

This figure reports the record of nominations for the past five presidential administrations to provide a comparison with the Trump administration’s pace of nominations. The average administration is seven months ahead of the Trump performance. Overall, the Trump team has the worst performance of the last forty years. The Clinton administration, for example, lapped the performance of the Trump team (finishing in one year what the Trump team took two years to accomplish).

Pace of Confirmations (filling positions) at Two Years
The average presidency has twice as many positions filled

On confirmations, the situation is worse. The pace of filling positions in the Trump government is on average 11.5 months behind the average for previous administrations. The Reagan administration’s record of filling positions has pulled more than fifteen months ahead of the Trump performance, “lapping” the current administration last fall. Other previous administrations have begun to close in on the Trump performance, as well. The Clinton administration, for example, lapped the Trump performance in November. The Obama and George W. Bush administrations each stand 11.5 months ahead of the Trump administration’s record. At this point starting their third year, the average administration has almost twice as many government positions filled

 

For questions or commentary, contact: Terry Sullivan, WHTP, at sullivan@ibiblio.org or 919-593-2124


Appointments Pace Trackers – Description

The White House Transition Project documents the pace at which a new administration fills out the American executive branch through its appointments power. WHTP tracks the pace of appointments in four ways.

PAS Positions. First, we track 980 presidential appointments requiring Senate confirmation (known as “PAS” positions). These appointments include top administration positions in all the cabinet agencies (e.g., the Deputy Secretary for Commerce), the top positions in the independent regulatory agencies (e.g., member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve), and the top positions in the myriad of government boards and commissions (e.g., member of the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board). WHTP tracks the most important ambassadorships (e.g., Israel, UK, NATO, Russia, China) but we do not track all ambassadors, US Marshals, or most federal attorneys, though all these also require Senate confirmation. Also, note, the largest group of PAS positions are uniformed military officers. We don’t track them either.

Pace of Institutional Vetting. Second, WHTP follows the vetting processes both in the Executive and the Senate, detailing how long each takes to move a nomination along. In the Executive, we track from the White House announcement of an “intent to nominate” and then compare that to when the Executive forwards the nominee’s packet to the Senate. This period typically involves the ethics and security screening processes. WHTP uses the same distinctions common to the study of appointments: the administration may make an “announcement to nominate” but that is not the nomination. People become nominees when the administration forwards their credentials to the Senate. Once at the Senate, are nominees, we measure the time from receiving the nominee’s credentials to either a nominee’s current status (where no decision has occurred yet) or to a Senate decision.

Standing UP the Leadership on Critical Duties. Third, WHTP identifies and tracks positions critical to national policy-making leadership. Based on recommendations from the National Commission to Reform the Federal Appointments Process, WHTP has identified 213 “time sensitive,” leadership positions. These positions include all the leadership in government agencies (i.e., Secretary, Deputy Secretary), especially national security (e.g., Director FBI, Assistant Treasury Secretary for Terrorist Financing), economic management (e.g., Deputy US Trade Representative), critical management positions (e.g., General Counsel, Department of Veterans Affairs), or key to the management agenda (e.g., Deputy Director of OMB). Successfully filling out this second group of positions, we argue, “stands up” the American executive. For the most part, these positions carry out critical and essentially non-partisan government duties, like global commerce or counter-terrorism.

In these three analyses, we take the same approach. We compile data from the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations to build a model. The model generates a set of expectations about “average” performance on nominations, minus withdrawals, confirmations, those already in place, and the stand up — the critical leadership positions. The model weights slightly more the performance of the Obama administration because the conditions in the most recent administration (numbers of appointments, the requirements of new administrative units, new laws, etc) more closely resemble those for President Trump. Then we compare what to expect from our model with the performance of the current administration. These comparisons generate “pace” measures that tells us whether the current administration exceeds or lags behind expectations based on the previous administrations.

The Full Stand UP Comparison on Critical Duties. Fourth, WHTP considers a special comparison between President Trump’s performance and that of his immediate predecessor, President Obama. For these two presidents, WHTP uses the same 213 positions, excluding some 15 positions that President Obama had to fill that disappeared before President Trump came to office. And this comparison will include not just the president’s nominations but also those critical positions already filled by someone in an unexpired, fixed term appointment. As an example, on inauguration day 2009, President Obama already had a Director FBI then serving the middle of a 10 year fixed term appointment. Equally so, President Trump arrived with and today still has a Director FBI (Director Comey). We call this special detailed comparison, the “Full Stand UP” comparison.