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Reducing the Adversarial Burden on Presidential Appointees: Feasible Strategies for Fixing the Presidential Appointments Process


Terry Sullivan is an associate professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and currently W. Glenn Campbell National Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. He is also executive director of the White House Transition Project. Professor Sullivan concentrates on the American presidency and formal models of executive decision making. His research on appointments is regularly used by the House and Senate committees concentrating on government organization and reform.


Can the current presidential appointments process be improved? This essay highlights three kinds of problems: inexperienced appointees, a lengthening process, and tedious and adversarial inquiry. While the essay side-steps trying to affect the prerogatives of institutions involved in the tussle over appointments, it concentrates on improving the support of presidential personnel operations and the process of inquiry that nominees face, and it identifies patterns of repetitiveness among the roughly 2,800 details that a nominee must provide in responding to some 295 individual questions in nine categories. The most adversarial and tedious categories of inquiry include identifying personal background, reporting on criminal entanglements, and assaying potential conflicts of interest. Five strategies are identified for better matching the needed experience in the White House to the demands of presidential personnel. These changes would indirectly shorten the nomination and confirmation process, and the author makes three important recommendations for structuring inquiry that could reduce the adversarial burden on nominees by nearly a third.