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Time has run out on some Biden administration appointees

President Biden has yet to make nominations for many administration jobs, some of which are being filled by temporary appointees whose tenure is about to end.
President Biden has yet to make nominations for many administration jobs, some of which are being filled by temporary appointees whose tenure is about to end.

Here is a marker: Nov. 16 marks Day 300 of President Biden's first year in office.

It's also the deadline by which anyone temporarily filling most high-level jobs in the administration needs to be replaced, unless a nominee for the post has been sent to the Senate.

It's required under the Vacancies Act, passed in 1998, as a way to make sure that presidents did not try to skirt the traditional Senate role to advise and consent on the president's nominees. The law does have consequences.

Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, says former President Donald Trump's acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, William Perry Pendley, overstayed his temporary tenure.

"Some of his decisions were viewed to hold no legal effect and had to be, in essence, ignored," Stier told NPR. "This creates a lot of uncertainty about decision making in government in ways that we don't need.

"We have so much that needs to be done by our government. There are so many challenges, that we ought to be running it in a way that allows it to perform at its very best."

Some 1,200 government jobs require Senate confirmation, making it hard for presidents to get all their positions filled on time. Stier says the system is broken.

"We need to see a substantial reduction in the number of Senate-confirmed positions. That would enable the Senate to do its job better and the president to do his or her job better as well," he said. "That's the biggest answer to the problem right now."

Kathryn Dunn Tenpas of the Brookings Institution says no other country works like this.

"We are very peculiar in the sense that every four or every eight years we basically lop off the top of the pyramid and then it takes several months to get leadership in place to go forward," she said.

She thinks the Senate should focus more on acting on a president's nominations, especially at the start of a new administration.

"I think maybe at the beginning of each new administration, there should be a period in which they solely focus on confirmations or they reduce recess time until they get through a threshold number of confirmations," she said.

She pointed to the 9/11 Commission's recommendation that a new president's nominees be given priority.

"They argue that our most vulnerable year is this first year in office," she said.

Positions with unconfirmed nominees are not affected by the Vacancies Act, but the Partnership for Public Service counts some 169 positions where there is still no nominee.

But, Tenpas says, the wheels of government will continue to turn despite the top-level shuffling.

"I think it largely will go undetected," she said. "But I think, generally speaking, it's not good to have temporary leadership at the top of these executive departments."

The White House says it's aware of the 300-day deadline and that each government agency does have "appropriately designated senior leaders" who can perform the duties of the position until someone is nominated and confirmed.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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