by Darren Samuelsohn, Politico
President Barack Obama has a big to-do list for his final two-plus years in office. But he doesn’t have all the key people in place to pull it all off.
A POLITICO analysis of the 15 Cabinet agencies plus several other departments with high-priority policy agendas found a recurring theme for the outgoing Obama administration: plentiful job openings and several slots where long-term vacancies could have real-world consequences for policies from national security to the economy and the environment.
At the Homeland Security Department, Obama has no Senate-confirmed policy chief in place to handle terrorism and cybersecurity threats and the immigration crisis on the southern U.S. border. Obama wants to act on climate change, but the Environmental Protection Agency is missing several of the political leaders needed to shepherd regulations through a demanding process with tight scrutiny from industry, environmentalists, other federal agencies and the White House’s own budget crunchers. And the scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs is hesitant to make some big new policy changes until it gets a fresh batch of political leaders.
More than 220 nominees are still awaiting Senate confirmation to fill vacancies across the administration, and a senior Democratic aide said Majority Leader Harry Reid is planning to force floor votes on a “good number” of them before the November election. Still, the openings are sure to grow as more staffers make their strategically timed exits through D.C.’s revolving door while the cachet of having Obama-related experience still means something on a résumé.
It’s a painful reality check for the president — and one that would only grow worse if Republicans win control of the Senate. Back in early 2009, he had the cream of the Democratic crop gunning to work for him. Now, as Obama relies more on federal agencies to bypass Congress and help secure his legacy, he’ll be lucky if his second, third or even fourth stringers are on the clock.
“Without in any sense knocking the people who are ‘acting,’ when you’re not a permanent officeholder, your ability to make decisions and to plan and to direct the agency in a strategic way is compromised because everybody views you as a short-timer,” said Michael Chertoff, who served as President George W. Bush’s second-term Homeland Security secretary.