President Joe Biden’s cabinet is the slowest taking shape in modern history, with just over a dozen nominees for top posts confirmed more than a month after his tenure.
Of Biden’s 23 cabinet-level nominees, only 13 were approved by the Senate, or just over half. And of the 15 core candidates to lead federal agencies, 10 were confirmed, or about two-thirds. According to the Center for Presidential Transition, about a month after her first term, 84 percent of her core cabinet elections for the previous four presidents had been confirmed.
On Tuesday, Biden’s cabinet became more unsettled when his nominee to head the White House budget office, Neera Tanden, withdrew after her nomination encountered opposition from key senators on both sides of the aisle.
The delay in confirmations means that some departments are left without their top decision-makers as they attempt to issue guidelines to deal with the overlapping crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Former Health and Welfare Secretary Donna Shalala said there are a number of key decisions at HHS and across the federal government awaiting leadership from above.
It is a pity. And in the middle of a huge health crisis, it’s wrong, she said. Officials are capable, but they need guidance. And they’re used to having leaders.
Sustained by President Bill Clinton two days after being sworn in, Shalala said she had her chain of command up and running and could immediately go over a long list of decisions and policy changes.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the Biden administration’s HHS candidate, will receive a committee vote on Wednesday and is expected to receive simple endorsement. However, Shalala pointed out a laundry list of issues, from overseeing hospitals, healthcare companies and nursing homes during the pandemic, to drug price issues, telemedicine and childcare services that desperately need his input.
The lack of a manager, she said, only slows everything down. Matt Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit tracking the president’s transition, said federal ministries tend to be more conservative in making decisions and changing policies without the top talent.
Missing the top person means it’s quite difficult to actually tackle the very big questions and make big changes, ”he said. And there’s a natural conservatism when people don’t already know what the top person really wants.
The slow pace in confirmations is partly due to the delay in the transition process due to attempts by President Donald Trump to contest his loss in the 2020 presidential campaign and the lack of cooperation from Trump administration officials, says the White House of Biden.
The Senate Democrats did not win a majority of the seats in the Chamber until the January 5 runoff in Georgia, and then it took nearly a month for the Democratic and Republican leaders to agree on a resolution to organize the Upper Chamber, which resulted in the Committee further delayed work.
And Democrats privately admit that Trump’s second impeachment also slowed the process down a bit, devouring a week of valuable Senate time, and keeping lawmakers busy with other work beyond reviewing and processing Biden’s nominees.
Still, Biden Transition spokesman Andrew Bates said that following the delays caused by the previous administration’s opposition to the will of the American people, the relatively smooth progress of confirmation in recent weeks is both welcome and appreciated.
He added, however, that this is barely enough, and nominees with strong bipartisan support who are vital in fighting the pandemic and turning our economy around by creating millions of jobs remain unnecessarily handicapped by individual members. That needs to change.
The Biden government has given priority to the approval of candidates who are vital to national security, economic and public health decisions. Biden has his director of national intelligence and his top staff in the ministries of state security, homeland security and defense, as well as his finance minister.
But aside from waiting for Becerra at HHS, the administration lacks top executives from the Department of Justice, Housing and Urban Development, and the Small Business Administration, departments responsible for some of Biden’s top priorities and the implementation of his $ 1.9 trillion US dollar coronavirus will be of vital importance to the State Aid Act if it goes into effect later this month.
And the delay in approving senior posts also means a delay in approving and replacing the deputy secretaries and undersecretaries, who are often responsible for the essentials of executing key policies.
For example, Shalala noted that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will offer guidance on how insurers should cover coronavirus costs and implementation on aspects of the COVID-19 relief law and currently only have one acting administrator. She also noted that HHS has proxies overseeing everything from refugee resettlement to childcare programs.
And Tanden’s withdrawal on Tuesday raises more questions about the Biden government’s budget process.
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