Home > Congressional Research Service, government and politics, political process > CRS — Presidential Appointments, the Senate’s Confirmation Process, and Changes Made in the 112th Congress

CRS — Presidential Appointments, the Senate’s Confirmation Process, and Changes Made in the 112th Congress

November 2, 2012

Presidential Appointments, the Senate’s Confirmation Process, and Changes Made in the 112th Congress (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The responsibility for populating top positions in the executive and judicial branches of government is one the Senate and the President share. The President nominates an individual, the Senate may confirm him, and the President would then present him with a signed commission. The Constitution divided the responsibility for choosing those who would run the federal government by granting the President the power of appointment and the Senate the power of advice and consent.

Several hundred people go through the appointments process each year. Prior to the adoption of the measures discussed in this report, there were approximately 1,200-1,400 positions in the executive branch requiring the Senate’s advice and consent. The pace of the appointment and confirmation processes has been the subject of a series of critical reports and proposals for change. Critics believe that the executive branch vetting, and/or the confirmation process in the Senate, is too long and difficult and discourages people from seeking government office. Others, however, contend that most nominations are successful, suggesting that the process is functioning as it should, and that careful scrutiny of candidates is appropriate.

During the 112 th Congress, a bipartisan group of Senators crafted two measures they contend will make the appointment process easier and quicker. Both measures were adopted.

P.L. 112-166, the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011, removed the requirement for Senate confirmation for appointees to 163 positions, authorizing the President alone to appoint certain officials. Originally introduced into the Senate in March 2011 as S. 679, the Senate passed an amended version of the bill by a vote of 79-20 on June 29, 2011. The House of Representatives passed the Senate’s version of the bill under suspension of the rules on July 31, 2012. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on August 10, 2012. Parts of the act took effect immediately, and other parts took effect on October 9, 2012, 60 days after its enactment.

P.L. 112-166 contains two major provisions. The first eliminated the requirement for the Senate’s advice and consent on nominations to 163 positions in the executive branch. This provision of the law took effect on October 9, 2012. Members who supported the bill during its consideration have stated that the reduction in the number of positions subject to the Senate’s advice and consent will ease the Senate’s workload on processing nominations.

The second major provision of P.L. 112-166 established a working group to examine the appointments process. The working group is required to write two reports that are expected to generate a number of recommendations. The first, which is required to be submitted by November 8, 2012, is to make recommendations on how to streamline the collection of paperwork required of nominees. The second report, which is required to be submitted by May 3, 2013, is to examine whether the background investigations currently conducted of nominees can or should be improved.

S.Res. 116, a resolution “to provide for expedited Senate consideration of certain nominations subject to advice and consent,” established a potentially faster Senate confirmation process for nominees to an additional 272 positions. On June 29, 2011, the Senate agreed to an amended version of S.Res. 116, by a vote of 89-8. The provisions of S.Res. 116 are now a standing order of the Senate and took effect for nominations received after August 28, 2011.

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