The trend of high levels of vacancies in agency leadership continued in 2021, the a report has said, citing a Senate confirmation process that “has limited the ability of administrations to fill critical roles and undermines the effectiveness.”
The report from the Partnership for Public Service comes as a key agency for federal employees, the MSPB, is hitting a five-year mark of being unable to issue decisions on appeals of disciplinary actions and other cases it reviews, due to a lack of a quorum. Nominees for all three seats on the MSPB governing board remain pending in the Senate, as do nominees for positions at agencies important to federal employees including the FLRA, the TSP and the OPM.
The Partnership found that in his first year in office, President Biden made nominations for 644 positions requiring Senate confirmation, slightly fewer than Presidents Bush and Obama in their first years (677 and 653) and more than President Trump (555). However, only 55 percent of those nominations were confirmed with the year, compared with 57 percent under Trump, 69 percent under Obama and 75 percent under Bush.
In addition, of those confirmed the time their nominations were pending has increased steadily with each administration, from 48 days on average under Bush to 103 days under Biden.
The study also found variation by agency, with the VA having 85 percent of positions requiring confirmation filled and DHS 65 percent, compared with 33 percent at Transportation and 38 percent at HUD.
The Partnership noted that it has raised concerns for years about lack of confirmed leadership and the impact on agencies, citing recommendations it has made such as converting some of those positions to noncareer SES slots or political slots that do not need confirmation.