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Many top positions in the Biden administration remain vacant nearly six months into the presidency as President Joe Biden moves ahead with an ambitious agenda relying, in some cases, on acting officials.
The Biden administration has 160 nominees languishing in the Senate, according to the Partnership for Public Service, which tracks presidential appointments.
But more than 300 positions are awaiting nominees, and the slow-moving Senate has confirmed just 81 officials to date.
Some key jobs in the Biden administration, including budget director and solicitor general, remain without a Senate-confirmed official, with no nominations made to date.
Kathryn Tenpas, a nonresident senior fellow for governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said while Biden has a high number of vacancies, he has put forward nominees at a rapid pace.
“Their ability to staff the government is limited because of the Senate’s ability to confirm nominees in a timely manner,” Tenpas told the Washington Examiner.
Biden had nominated more officials at the 100-day mark of his presidency than his six most recent predecessors, according to the White House Transition Project.
That pace has leveled out in more recent weeks, with his rate of appointments now falling below the speeds at which former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan nominated officials.
But Biden has secured far fewer confirmations at this point in his presidency than Obama and Bush, who both had confirmed well over 100 nominees by July of the first year of their presidencies, according to the Partnership for Public Service.
Kristine Simmons, the vice president for government affairs at the Partnership for Public Service, attributed some of the vacancies to the slower pace of confirmations occurring in the 50-50 Senate.
“Because the Senate is evenly split, there is a special process that a nominee must go through if the committee deadlocks,” Simmons told the Washington Examiner.
“It triggers an additional process on the Senate floor, and sometimes the vice president is required to come in and break a tie,” Simmons said. “So, that requires a ton of logistical work to make sure scheduling enables that.”
Nominations typically make their way through committees of jurisdiction before heading to the Senate floor for a vote. For example, diplomatic posts must first go through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Pentagon posts must first go through the Senate Armed Services Committee.
But when the committees are equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, the committee vote can sometimes result in a tie. Simmons said her organization has heard from Senate committees in recent months that lawmakers in both parties are allowing extra time for vetting and meetings in an effort to arrive at bipartisan support so the committees don’t end up deadlocking.
Former President Donald Trump faced negative media coverage and widespread criticism during the early months of 2017 as he nominated officials at a slower pace than former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush and attempted to run his presidency with huge numbers of vacancies.
Critics blamed a sloppy transition, as well as the lack of government experience among the aides Trump tapped to fill the hundreds of positions that require Senate confirmation in the federal government.
Matthew Buckham, the co-founder of the American Accountability Foundation and a former Special Assistant to the President for Presidential Personnel under Trump, blamed Democratic obstruction in the Trump era for keeping many positions in the last administration open.
“The amount of obstruction that we saw from the Democrats was unparalleled compared to previous presidencies in their first terms,” Buckham told the Washington Examiner.
While Biden has faced roadblocks in the Senate to getting some of his appointments across the finish line, he has not yet nominated people for many positions.
Biden has put forward no nominees to fill ambassadorships in at least 64 countries. Some of the ambassador vacancies are significant to foreign policy; for example, Biden has nominated no one to serve as ambassador to China, the United Kingdom, or Saudi Arabia.
Some government oversight experts have questioned the lack of nominees to fill open inspector general seats. Eight agencies lack a nominee for the watchdog position, according to the Partnership for Public Service.
That includes some of the government’s largest agencies, such as the Department of State and the Pentagon.
After Biden’s original nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, withdrew in March, the White House has not named anyone to fill the crucial role.
“I’m sort of surprised that they haven’t put somebody else for the director [of OMB],” Tenpas said. “They haven’t even named a successor to Tanden.”
Tenpas said another key vacancy exists at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, an office within OMB that presently has no nominee to be an administrator.
“That OIRA job is very important. It’s kind of below the radar,” she said. “But it’s actually really important.”
Among other things, the OIRA administrator helps oversee regulations.