Senate committee votes to streamline confirmation process

In a rare instance of congressional restraint, a Senate committee on Wednesday moved forward a bill that would eliminate the confirmation process for roughly 200 administration appointees.

The 2011 Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act, which cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in an afternoon vote, would no longer require a confirmation hearing for many noncontroversial positions, including more than 100 part-time advisory board members.

The other positions that would no longer require Senate confirmation were selected because they are not involved in developing policy or setting budget priorities and already report to a Senate-confirmed official, according to Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. They include many communications and legislative affairs officials at agencies throughout the government.

Also included on the list is the position of Office of Management and Budget comptroller, a spot that Danny Werfel currently holds. The comptroller helps sets agency financial reform policies, including the collection of improper payments.

Sen. Robert Portman, R-Ohio, a former OMB director, opposed the inclusion of agency chief financial officers among positions that would no longer need confirmation. The Senate Rules Committee could consider changing the bill and eliminating those spots before a final vote on the floor, Lieberman said.

Under the proposed bill, the Senate still would require confirmation for 1,200 policymaking positions and senior officials.

The legislation also would create a working group charged with improving the speed and efficiency of background investigations of administration nominees. For example, an electronic system would be created to distribute background information from nominees to congressional committees, the White House and the FBI, potentially eliminating weeks of delays, lawmakers said. The working group would consider using personnel other than the FBI to conduct background checks for individuals as well.

The measure has the support of a bipartisan group of 20 former lawmakers and White House operatives who have studied streamlining the federal appointment process for the nonpartisan Aspen Institute.

In addition, the committee voted on Wednesday to approve the nomination of Rafael Borras to serve as undersecretary for management at the Homeland Security Department.

Other legislation approved in block by the committee includes:

  • The 2011 Federal Acquisition Institute Improvement Act, which reforms the management and oversight of government's training academy for civilian contracting professionals. The measure,>introduced last week, would require the Federal Acquisition Institute to report directly to OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy. The FAI director would be appointed by the OFPP administrator and report directly to the office's associate administrator for acquisition workforce.
  • The 2011 Government Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act would establish higher safeguards and internal controls for agencies that issue and use federal purchase cards.
  • The 2011 Independent Task and Delivery Order Review Extension Act would extend the sunset date for protests on task and delivery order contracts through September 2016.
A scheduled vote on a bill to reform the Federal Protective Service, which protects 9,000 federal buildings nationwide, was canceled due to a lack of quorum.

The 2011 Supporting Employee Competency and Updating Readiness Enhancements for Facilities Act, would require FPS to hire 146 additional full-time employees. A similar bill that was introduced in the 111th Congress would have added 500 additional employees, but the measure did not pass.

The legislation also calls on FPS to increase its guard training, establish procedures for retraining or terminating ineffective guards and to establish performance-based standards to detect explosives and other threats at federal facilities.

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