Consolidate paperwork for presidential appointees, White House group urges

“As President Obama begins planning for his second term in office, the timing of this report could not be more auspicious,” Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said. “As President Obama begins planning for his second term in office, the timing of this report could not be more auspicious,” Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Consolidating presidential nominee paperwork topped recommendations of a White House working group that is calling for the creation of a new so-called smart form for appointees.

The White House and federal agencies could have nominees fill out the electronic core questionnaire, which also would allow Senate panels to add customized questions, but only as needed, according to a new report.

Nominees, federal workers, lawmakers and academics have long complained that detailed and redundant forms—along with aggressive investigative tactics employed by some senators delaying confirmation votes—discourage qualified talent from accepting presidential appointments.

“We take some self-respecting U.S. citizen,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who served on the working group, “and the president invites them to come take a position in the federal government of honor and dignity, and suddenly they find themselves immersed in a series of duplicative interrogations from all directions in which they must fill out forms that define words such as ‘income’ in different ways, all of which is designed to lead them before a committee, not to really assess their qualifications but to see if they can be trapped and turned into an apparent criminal.”

As called for under the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act, which became law in August, the working group’s report lays out a plan to streamline the appointment process for 1,152 positions that require Senate approval. The law removed the Senate confirmation requirement for 169 positions.

The report was presented Thursday to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the Rules and Administration committees, via a letter from Office of Management and Budget official Lisa Brown.

Retiring committee chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said a reduction in paperwork would help nominees reach confirmation more efficiently. “As President Obama begins planning for his second term in office, the timing of this report could not be more auspicious,” Lieberman said.

Such changes, he added, would “free up the Senate to concentrate on nominees for the most important offices, while the working group recommendations will free up nominees to concentrate on the issues rather than filling out paperwork.”

To create the smart form within the next year, the report specifically recommends:

  • Questions on White House and Senate forms not duplicate questions on the public financial disclosure form;
  • New smart form designers eliminate irrelevant questions such as net worth and investment income;
  • Planners vary paperwork for certain part-time positions on boards and commissions that may not require heavy scrutiny;
  • Congress implement the recommendations before the new session starts in January.

The bipartisan White House working group, which adopted the recommendations unanimously, consists of former senators; current and former senior White House officials, including directors of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel; current and former directors of the Office of Personnel Management (John Berry and Janice Lachance); representatives from the and the Office of Government Ethics; and the U.S. chief technology officer and federal chief Information officer (Steven VanRoekel). Brown was its chairwoman due to her recent role as acting federal chief performance officer.

The report includes sample changes in questions and a survey of literature on the topic of nominees and paperwork. The working group is tasked with producing, by May 7, 2013, a follow-up report on background investigation requirements.

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