Appointments

Pace of Appointments Tracker
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 three ways. First, we track 970 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 US Marshals or most federal attorneys, though all these also require Senate confirmation.

Second, 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 221 “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.

In both these 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 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.

Third, 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 221 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 today with Director Comey. We will call this the basis for this special comparison, the “Full Stand UP” comparison.


Summaries from Appointments Analyses

Last Updated: 3/25/2017 @ 1AM EST
Describing Pace of PAS Nominations
Tracking 970 PAS Positions
Describing Pace of Stand Up
Tracking 221 Critical Leadership PAS Positions
To assess the pace of appointments in the Trump administration, WHTP models the past performance of the previous three administrations. This modeling builds a projection of what the Trump administration’s efforts should look like. Then, WHTP’s pace tracker compares the Trump appointments against that projections. To assess the pace of Stand Up, WHTP identifies the parallel critical leadership positions in the three previous administrations and builds a comparison with the pace of Stand Up for the current administration. Note also, that since some PAS positions have “fixed terms” (e.g., Director FBI) some appointments will already have an incumbent in office when a new president comes in.
As a new addition, WHTP now tracks the reduction of nominations by withdrawals. For example, in the current tracking chart below, the Trump Administration withdrew a number of nominations during the month of February, (illustrated by the dip in the red line).

Pace Chart 03-25Standup Chart 03-25

Headline: President Trump’s appointments lag previous administrations by three weeks

Pace of Nominations & Confirmations
Tracking 970 PAS positions
Pace of Stand Up
Tracking 221 Critical PAS positions
Nominations: -49.0%
Confirmations: -29.2%
Stand Up: -51.0%

Commentary:

President Trump Nominations and Senate Confirmations Remain Mired, Lag Predecessors by a Full Three Weeks

Commentary:

On Critical Leadership, President Trump Lags
Far Behind Average Effort
The figure above summarizes both expectations based on predecessors’ performances (in green) and the performance of the Trump administration (in red).
While the weighted average from the previous three administrations (solid green line) continued its steep climb last week (now 77 nominations over the 970 positions), the Trump Administration continues fixed near 40 nominated for those same 970 PAS positions. Hence, its early performance (solid red line) has slogged along while the typical administration would have begun to take off about three weeks ago, making progressively more nominations each week.
The continued slow performance of the Senate presents the same slightly confusing picture from two weeks ago. The Republican Senate has confirmed half the president’s nominees (leaving a backlog of 16 of 40 nominations – the dashed red line) which has now dropped below expectations (dashed green line) based on previous administration’s pending nominations (a backlog of around 33 of 77 nominations). Current performance on nominations, though, has allowed the Senate to catch up apace previous administrations only by giving the Senate far fewer nominations to consider. And while the administration argues they have meant to shrink the size of the executive, this strategy leaves great gaps in leadership (see accompanying summary).
At this point since the inauguration, the average administration would have filled about 18% of those critical leadership positions in the government (green bar in figure above) necessary to lead the government. And though President Trump and the Senate majority have far fewer positions to stand up than previous administrations, they still have only completed around 9% of the total necessary to stand up the government (red bar in figure). The Trump nominations for these time sensitive positions (at 33) falls considerably below the expectation (51), while the Senate majority has confirmed a bit more than half of the Trump administration’s nominees (19) while in the typical experience, previous Senates would have confirmed more than double that number or three-quarters of the administration’s nominees (39 of 51).
The current pace of nominations and confirmations puts the Trump administration exactly 50% behind the average pace for filling these critical jobs.
Nominations: -49.0%
Confirmations: -29.2%
Stand Up: -51.0%

Special Commentary

On the “Full Stand UP,” President Obama Especially Outpaces President Trump’s Current Performance

The previous president with the most similar demands and circumstances, President Obama, did far better in securing a stand up than has President Trump so far. On the most critical leadership positions and by this time, President Obama had filled 53 of the 221 used to compare the two administrations. Of those 53, 15 came from positions in which an incumbent was filling out a fixed term appointment (like the current FBI Director). President Trump has filled 44 critical leadership positions, but 27 (or more than half) were already in place on inauguration day, serving out a fixed term (e.g., FBI Director Comey). To sample some of the positions that, by now, President Obama and the Senate had filled which currently remain completely empty:
Deputy Defense Secretary
Defense UnderSecretary for Intelligence
Deputy Attorney General
Deputy Secretary of State
Chair, Council of Economic Advisors
Director, Office of National Intelligence
Chair, Securities and Exchange Commission

By this time, the Obama administration had remaining in the Senate for confirmation more than twice the number of Trump nominees (32 versus 14). Obama also had had 80% more critical nominations confirmed. Between the two administrations and on these critical leadership positions, President Trump is farther along on 10, while President Obama’s record would have him farther along on 46 (or nearly 5 times more). The two are at the same stage in another 21 positions common to both administrations.

Last Updated: 3/25/2017 @ 1AM EST

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