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Filling Senate-confirmed positions may take months, former OPM directors say

President-elect Joe Biden will name more nominees this week, after last week’s rollout of choices for his economic team. Those candidates will face a nomination landscape that’s dramatically different than nominees have faced in more than 30 years.

“This is the first time since 1989 that a president is going to enter office with a Senate of the opposite party,” former Director of the Office of Personnel Management Janice Lachance told “Government Matters.” “I think that’s going to make a tremendous difference; I’m not sure good or bad. What I’m hoping is that the Senate will realize that these nominees are expert in their fields. They have a lot of experience. They’ve been in the public eye. They have a very visible record.”

The pandemic is a factor in the confirmation, Lachance said. “We have to start moving immediately to get leadership in place to really trigger the wheels of government and make sure that we can start on a path to recovery,” she said.

The process is a long one, though, according to former OPM Director Jeff Pon, and it’s long for a reason. “It’s making sure that the nominee is qualified, making sure that everybody is in tune with the candidate. [Everyone] from the Office of Government Ethics to the Senate staff … to your own receiving agency [reviews the nomination],” Pon said. He described the steps his own nomination and confirmation took, from mock hearings, to the actual hearings, the approval process and Senate votes, and finally to swearing in. Once in office, Pon told “Government Matters,” “hopefully you have a trusted, qualified team that plays well with others.”

Lachance expects to see an emphasis among the president-elect’s team on the positions that don’t require Senate confirmation. “I think you will see a very quick and speedy filling of the non-career SES [and] schedule C positions,” Lachance said. “Hopefully, they’ll get filled quickly [and] expeditiously. Hopefully the Senate will see that there is an urgency here in getting those Cabinet and [other] Senate-confirmed positions in places.”

Lachance is optimistic some of the Biden administration’s choices can be in place on Inauguration Day. “There is a history in this country of having hearings for some cabinet officials before the inauguration,” she told “Government Matters.” “There’s a history of Cabinet members being confirmed on Inauguration Day – people literally leave the west front of the Capitol and go into session, and confirm some of the cabinet nominees. So I’m hoping that this Senate will operate in good faith that way.”

There is only so much the new administration can do to shorten the timeline, given the way the process is built, Pon said. “Three to six months is usually the [timeline],” Pon told “Government Matters.” “It’s a large undertaking; it’s 4,000 people [coming] in. There’s … 100,000 to 400,000 resumes to go through.”

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