The US Senate is considering another rule change aimed at reducing the backlog of presidential appointees awaiting Senate confirmation. The reality of political appointees has created a battlefield as partisans fight to get as many of their people into office as possible.
It should not be this way. We need a government staffed by competent professionals that all voters can trust, and that Congress can expect to faithfully implement its policies and laws. The old senate rule from 1917 had that effect by making it hard to appoint anyone who was not trusted by all sides. This was achieved by allowing debate on an appointee to continue until a two-thirds majority voted to end that debate. In 1975, the threshold was dropped down to three-fifths (60 votes). In 2013, Senator Harry Reid, then Senate Majority Leader changed the Senate’s rules again, reducing the threshold to only 51 votes. But senators could still debate up to 30 hours before any such vote could take place. The senate is now considering reducing the maximum debate time to a maximum of two hours for most executive branch posts below Cabinet level. Would this include heads of agencies such as the CIA, the FCC, or the EPA? Critical ambassadorships?
If this proposal is adopted, the American public can expect no more than two hours of debate and a majority of 51 votes to approve many appointees no matter how consequential that appointment might be. Our children and grandchildren are likely to feel very frustrated if this is maintained.
The are other options. Why not sharply reduce the number of political appointees so that the American public can trust in the competency and neutrality of our top civil servants? Sharply reducing their number will also reduce the backlog and the burden placed on the senate. The Congress has tackled this issue before – The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 was meant to end rewarding political supporters with government jobs by requiring that positions should be awarded only by competency and a commitment to serve any incoming administration. Now would be a good time to renew the spirit of that act, close up the loopholes, and drop the number of political appointees from thousands to less than one hundred.