June 18, 2001Many federal agencies continue to disregard a law requiring them to report vacancies in presidentially appointed executive agency positions, according to a new report from the General Accounting Office. Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, agencies are required to inform Congress and GAO whenever positions that require presidential appointment and Senate confirmation become vacant or are filled on a temporary basis. The legislation also mandates notification if a nomination to fill one of the vacancies is sent to the Senate, and if the nomination is rejected, withdrawn or returned. Under the act, vacancies can be filled for up to 210 days by acting officials. GAO surveyed 62 federal agencies for its report, "Presidential Appointments: Agencies' Compliance with Provisions of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998" (GAO-01-701), which covered the period from November 1998 through June 2000. The report found that 19 percent of all vacancies and 24 percent of all acting appointments had not been reported. When vacancy notifications were sent, GAO found that they arrived more than four weeks late at least half of the time. The departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, Transportation, Veterans Affairs and the Office of Management and Budget all reported vacancies and temporary appointments in a timely fashion, according to GAO. But, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Peace Corps, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy reported less than 50 percent of their vacancies and temporary appointments, and offered no explanation for their incomplete reporting. "One would have to wonder why an agency would continue to violate the Vacancies Act by failing to accurately report to Congress and GAO," said Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., who serves as ranking member of the Governmental Affairs Committee. GAO reviewed agencies' compliance with the Vacancies Act at Thompson's request. In March, the counsel to the President issued a memo providing guidance on how to comply with the Vacancies Act. The memo told agencies to report directly to Congress and GAO rather than through the Office of Presidential Personnel and OMB. "This more streamlined process should lead to more current reporting of events and the memorandum itself should raise awareness in agencies of their responsibility and hopefully increase timely compliance with the reporting requirements," GAO said. Thompson said he hoped that the Bush administration would continue to work with Congress to make sure that the "appropriate people, whether temporarily appointed or confirmed by the Senate, are exercising the power of these offices."
June 18, 2001