People are Policy

Jeff Markey

The slow pace of nominations to federal agencies is starting to cause trickle down effects for grant money and productivity.

Recently, Signal Group had the chance to meet with a former member of President Bush’s presidential personnel team. During the conversation, one of the meeting participants raised the issue of the slow pace of nominations coming out of the Trump Administration. The participant shared that because decision makers are not yet in place at federal agencies, his company had more than a billion dollars of investment sidelined – investments that would assist in delivering on the president’s promise to grow the economy. In fact, as of May 17th, the Trump Administration has only nominated 89 people out of 557 positions requiring Senate Confirmation. Of the 89, only 33 have been confirmed.

Our guest relayed to the group the Bush Administration’s focus on ensuring that presidential appointments were on pace and a priority, stating that President Bush quite correctly understood that “people are policy.” I could not agree more with President Bush’s statement. If the president wants to move policy forward, it is essential that nominations be sent to the Senate expeditiously and without delay so that his advocates can implement and drive the federal bureaucracy.

It is correct that, in addition to the Trump Administration, the Senate plays a critical role in the confirmation process, and there have been delays there as well. However, the ability to confirm nominees with 51 votes – because of Senate Democrats’ decision to eliminate the filibuster on executive branch and lower court nominees in November of 2013 – the tools to block and delay nominees are finite. Simply stated, there are not enough nominations before the Senate at this point in the administration.

There are examples throughout the government of how this lack of nominations is impacting the economy, but I will highlight just one to illustrate the effect on the success of the president’s agenda.

At the Department of Transportation, the Senate just confirmed Deputy Secretary Rosen May 16th. Out of a total of 18 positions requiring confirmation, just two are confirmed and another two are nominated after four months. The result? DOT has well over a billion dollars of grant money this year to be awarded nationwide that is stuck in the Department. One billion dollars that will not be available to energize the economy during the critical summer construction season.

This is happening while the White House continues to emphasize their desire for a trillion-dollar infrastructure package. While we are confident that the president’s definition of infrastructure is much broader than the Department of Transportation, there is no doubt that a large part of any package will rely on the Department’s ability to move money efficiently and quickly to maximize the economic impact prior to the 2018 elections. To date, the Trump Administration has not nominated a single modal administrator. In comparison, the Federal Highway Administration (Bush hold over), Federal Transit Administration, and Federal Railroad Administration all had confirmed leadership in place at this point in the first term of the Obama Administration, with President Obama’s pick for FHWA being confirmed in July of 2009.

Finally, with all executive action focused on 1600 Pennsylvania due to a lack of activity throughout the executive branch, it is the only game in town. Some wonder if this is the very reason for the delay. President Trump’s demonstrated desire to closely control virtually all aspects of the executive branch is unique and is serving as an impediment to economic success. The administration must rapidly change its posture and nominate these critical positions as quickly as possible.

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