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One-Fourth of Agency Leadership Posts Are Unfilled

103 of the top 379 Cabinet-level administration jobs are missing a Senate-confirmed leader, POLITICO investigation finds.

As President Obama embarks on the final year of his presidency, the number of leadership vacancies around the government has reached as high as one-fourth of available positions, according to research published on Tuesday by POLITICO.

Fully 103 of the top 379 Cabinet-level administration jobs are currently without a Senate-confirmed leader, according to the compilation titled “Obama’s Vanishing Administration.” The largest numbers of high-level vacancies are at the State Department (51) and Defense (45), followed by Justice (18).

At the Environmental Protection Agency, more than half the agency’s top slots are held by interim leaders, the piece noted. The job of Education secretary, held until last month by Arne Duncan, is likely to be held through next January by acting Secretary John B. King Jr., who previously was senior adviser delegated duties of deputy Education secretary.

 “As senior aides have bolted for higher paying gigs, their jobs have remained empty — in some cases with replacements stuck in Senate limbo who may never get confirmed,” wrote reporter Darren Samuelsohn.

“The sheer number of vacancies is having a real-world effect on Obama, whose government is on high alert for terrorist attacks and still plans to wage domestic policy fights right up until the lights go out in January 2017," the piece stated. "On the international stage, observers say Obama’s officials without confirmation don’t carry the same level of gravitas when meeting with their diplomatic counterparts. In domestic policy disputes, Senate-confirmed staff carries more weight than the equivalent department leaders with 'acting' or deputy titles.”

At least part of the blame lies with the Senate. “New data compiled by the Congressional Research Service and obtained by POLITICO found that the Senate in 2015 confirmed the lowest number of civilian nominations — including judges and diplomatic ambassadors — for the first session of a Congress in nearly 30 years,” the article said.

Republicans have argued that similar Senate holdups occurred during the George W. Bush administration under Democratic control, and that Obama has been slow to vet and nominate candidates for some vacancies, particularly in the judiciary and diplomatic realms.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Finance Committee, scoffed at the reporter’s suggestion that the vacancies cause a problem: “They’re not shorthanded at all. In fact, if anything, they’re top-heavy with people.”

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