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Posted at 2:50 PM ET, 03/ 2/2011

Tips on how to fix the Senate confirmation process

By Ed O'Keefe

Image by The Washington Post

Senators are expected soon to introduce legislation that would drop the confirmation process for about 400 federal agency nominees. While they're at it, some veteran observers of the process on Wednesday said the Senate should make other changes to how it confirms a president's nominees.

Senate leaders in January settled on the most significant changes to the chamber's rules in more than three decades, agreeing to limit the use of filibusters and cut the workload by allowing presidents to install some political appointees without waiting for Senate approval. The changes will require legislation, expected to be introduced by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Clay Johnson III, who led George W. Bush's presidential transition and later served at the Office of Management and Budget, and Max Stier, president of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, shared some other suggested changes Wednesday with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The panel's leaders -- Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) -- are planning to cosponsor Schumer's bill, according to aides.

Johnson's proposed changes:

Clay Johnson
Clay Johnson III, former deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. (By Lauren Victoria Burke For The Post)

The government should develop a single electronic application process for potential political appointees in order to accelerate the process and required FBI background checks. The single database would save time, cut redundancies and ensure that nominees provide consistent answers to questions, he said.

The database would take up to one year and cost about $1 million to develop.

"A likely nominee would download an application from a website, indicate the position for which he or she is being considered, and receive an unduplicated list of all the background questions to be asked by any of the relevant vetting organizations," Johnson said in his prepared testimony. "The likely nominee would answer the questions, and as soon as permissible transmit to each of the vetting organizations the information they each expect, on the forms they are used to receiving: each vetting organization gets the information they desire to receive."

Lawmakers should also provide an additional $2 million to hire up to 10 new staffers for the White House personnel office. Most administrations employ just seven or eight staffers to review the backgrounds of nominees to more than 400 positions, Johnson said.

Stier's proposed recommendations:

Max Stier
Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service. (Post)

Lawmakers last year approved a bill including many of the Partnership's recommendations on improving the presidential transition process. Among other things, major-party presidential candidates will receive federal funding and office space to begin planning for a possible transition during the final months of the presidential campaign.

It was a good start, Stier said Wednesday, but there's more to do. For one, cut back on the number of Senate-confirmed positions even further by making them career positions.

"This makes sense for positions that are truly of a managerial nature, and would enable a longer time horizon to address agency management challenges," Stier said in his prepared text. "Having career experts serving in key management positions would also allow an agency to retain institutional knowledge and ensure continuity between administrations."

Senators should also avoid creating new positions requiring confirmation and should cap the number of political appointees at each agency. "This would ensure no agency becomes a repository for political favors and would promote better selection of individuals whose skills match agency missions," he said.

Finally, the government should set aside money to train incoming nominees about how to properly manage career government employees and agency operations.

The Partnership, which maintains a content-sharing deal with The Washington Post, might stand to benefit from any training programs for political officials since it's already one of a precious few organizations in Washington hosting training programs for the government's career employees.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

RELATED: Track Obama's nominees with The Post's Head Count

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 2, 2011; 2:50 PM ET
Categories:  Confirmation Hearings, Congress  
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Firing all the sitting U.S. Senators would be a good start.

Posted by: BBear1 | March 2, 2011 5:59 PM | Report abuse

A Congress that can't pass a budget certainly doesn't have time to confirm appointments.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | March 3, 2011 4:58 PM | Report abuse

The problem with coverting all the current political appointees over to the SES ranks means that they would be sitting in their present postion for the next twenty plus years. The simple solution would be to fire all the political appointees and open the positions up to everyone, not just those who paid for their post.

Posted by: jonesxx | March 4, 2011 8:01 AM | Report abuse

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