Senate fails to limit "acting" appointments

tshoop@govexec.com

The Senate this week failed to pass a bill that would have placed strict limits on the President's authority to appoint officials to top federal jobs in an "acting" capacity.

On Monday, Senate Democrats blocked an effort to limit debate on legislation proposed by Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., to curb what he said were violations of the 1868 Vacancies Act. Under the act, President may not install acting officials in positions requiring Senate confirmation for longer than 120 days. But recent Presidents have ignored the act's requirements, saying that language in other statutes allows them to appoint acting officials without time limits.

Thompson said earlier this year that of the 320 jobs appointed by the President requiring Senate confirmation, 64 (20 percent) were held by acting officials. Of those, 43 had been in their jobs longer than limit set out in the Vacancies Act.

"We have a government that is now more and more operating without the Constitution," Thompson said in an interview with National Journal in May. "The executive branch is not fulfilling its responsibilities to give Congress the opportunity to exercise its advice and consent powers. We've got to do something about it."

Thompson's bill would allow acting officials to remain in office for 150 days, but would prevent the President from designating anyone to serve in an acting capacity except the senior assistant to the vacant position or someone who had already been confirmed by the Senate for another job.

With the bill stalled and the Senate set to adjourn in early October, the fate of the legislation is uncertain.

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