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May 22, 2014 8:25 AM Obama Should Fix Nomination Process

By Jonathan Bernstein

Good news! Today, the Senate finally got around to confirming Stanley Fischer to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, five months after he was nominated. His nomination in January occurred months after Janet Yellen was picked to be Fed chair, creating the vice-chairman opening that Fischer is supposed to fill.

The two other Fed nominees from January? They’re still waiting, including one who is filling a vacancy from August. And there are still no nominees for two more openings.

This is no way to run a nation. It’s a wonder there aren’t more scandals similar to the unfolding one at the Veterans’ Administration. The executive branch nomination system just doesn’t work, and that means the bureaucracy can’t be managed as well as it should be.

At least, with majority confirmation in the Senate now established, it’s a little better, though (as Jennifer Bendery details nicely today) that hasn’t prevented a new round of obstruction.

I blame Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama for the mess. But in this case, the president deserves the blame for not finding a long-term solution. Obama has done a somewhat better job of filling vacancies promptly during his second term, but he has never made it a priority. Granted, there’s nothing he can do about obstruction-for-the-sake-of-obstruction Republicans. But he and Senate Democrats can do something about the excessive vetting that makes choosing public service a nightmare for so many potential nominees.

Yes, easing vetting may mean that some appearances of a conflict of interest sneak through, or it might even result in a few actual crooks in positions of authority. That’s a real cost. But that is outweighed by the benefits of streamlining the process so that vacancies no longer stay open for months or even years. There also are benefits to opening public service in important government positions to many people who cannot or will not participate because of an insane vetting process, in which candidates have to put their lives on hold for months.

Congress isn’t going to fix this by itself. It’s the job of the chief executive. If Obama doesn’t care, no one else will. He has plenty of time remaining to get this done (I recommend a presidential commission) in time to improve the end of his presidency, but even more important is to get this working in time for the next president.

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.

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