S. 679: To Remove “Advise and Consent” Function of Senate for Numerous Federal Appointments

This, introduced by Chuck Schumer on 30 March 2011, looks like a very, very bad idea, from the perspective of anyone who wants government to be smaller and less intrusive – and wants the executive to be policed better by the legislative branch.  President Obama and his czars are the obvious counterargument to this bill.  They make a powerful one.

More than 200 appointed positions would be excused from the advise-and-consent requirement by S. 679.  Among them are the following:

  • The Agriculture Department’s Commodities Credit Board
  • Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service Administrator
  • The Chief Scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • The Commerce Department’s Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information
  • The Defense Department’s Assistant Secretary for Networks and Information Integration
  • The Assistant Secretaries of each of the armed services for financial management
  • The Education Department’s Assistant Secretary for Management
  • Education’s Commissioner of Education Statistics
  • All 7 of the Assistant Secretaries of Energy
  • The Department of Homeland Security’s Director of the Office of Domestic Preparedness
  • Homeland Security’s Assistant Administrator of FEMA for Grant Programs
  • The Department of the Treasury’s Assistant Secretary for Management and Chief Financial Officer
  • The Treasurer of the United States
  • Director of the US Mint
  • The Governors and Alternate Governors of the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (amending Section 3 of the Bretton Woods Agreements Act)
  • Governor and Alternate Governor of the Asian Development Bank (amending Section 3(a) of the Asian Development Bank Act)
  • Governor and Alternate Governor of the African Development Fund (amending Section 203(a) of the African Development Fund Act)
  • Managing Director of the Corporation for National and Community Service
  • The Office of Management and Budget’s Controller, Office of Federal Financial Management
  • Director of the Community Development Financial Institution Fund

That’s just a sample – and it represents an awful lot of policy, money-handling, and benefit-management, with your tax dollars.  The Senate proposes to let the president appoint people to these positions without explicit prior oversight.  The sheer possibilities for graft and bribery here are colossal – and that’s before we even get to the possibilities for covert policy implementation.

The Senate may be naïve enough to think presidents “should” simply be trusted to appoint honest brokers to these positions.  With the Obama administration’s record of attempting one executive end-run after another around due-process law, such senatorial sentiment seems like willful stupidity.  But Obama is not the first president to appoint questionable individuals to second-tier federal positions.  There is a long history of problems or perceived problems in this area of executive privilege.  And that’s the point of consensual government, checks and balances, and separation of powers.

The list in S. 679 includes all the legislative affairs directors for the federal departments, which would mean that a president’s appointees to these positions would be entirely loyal to him, not Congress.  Add that to all the key positions in which money or statistics could be mishandled behind the scenes.  (The Chief Scientist for NOAA could well be the most important appointment in the US federal government these days.  The Commodity Credit Board and the Community Development Financial Institution Fund would be extremely efficient vote-buying vehicles in the wrong hands.  The skullduggery that could result from unreviewed appointments to the IMF and the Asian and African development funds doesn’t bear thinking about.)

Now is not the time to express this kind of confidence in the executive.  In fact, the case is the exact opposite.  In terms of political administration, S. 679 would be a good head start on turning all of America into Chicago.  Here are the Republicans who co-sponsored it with Chuck Schumer:

Alexander (TN)

Brown (MA)

Collins (ME)

Johanns (NE)

Kyl (AZ)

Lugar (IN)

McConnell (KY)

The Heritage Foundation has a good write-up.  H/t:  NoisyRoom.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at The Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Weekly Standard online, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative.