Confirming the Munchkins

Below, Mark observes that Senate confirmation is not a check on the processes I describe here, because “Too much of the action is in the non-confirmable munchkins like Monica Goodling.” Goodling was not, in fact “non-confirmable.” Congress has the power to classify any executive branch position it wishes to as subject to confirmation. The constitution states that, “the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments.” “May” is the operable word. The power to subject inferior officers to confirmation is in fact the most powerful weapon that Congress has against stocking the executive branch with officials whose primary credential is fidelity to the president’s program, rather than a more general competence at governing. Simply threatening to go deeper into the munchkin pile is likely to have wholesome effects, and certainly actually doing it would have unquestionable effects. The real problem is that it already takes a very long time to get a new president’s nominees through the confirmation process–the question is whether we want to make that any worse. But, at the least, it is possible to start with a single department where there are reasons to believe that excessively partisan selection principles are at work, and then see if that gets the message out more broadly.

Author: Steven M. Teles

Steven Teles is a Visiting Fellow at the Yale Center for the Study of American Politics. He is the author of Whose Welfare? AFDC and Elite Politics (University Press of Kansas), and co-editor of Ethnicity, Social Mobility and Public Policy (Cambridge). He is currently completing a book on the evolution of the conservative legal movement, co-editing a book on conservatism and American Political Development, and beginning a project on integrating political analysis into policy analysis. He has also written journal articles and book chapters on international free market think tanks, normative issues in policy analysis, pensions and affirmative action policy in Britain, US-China policy and federalism. He has taught at Brandeis, Boston University, Holy Cross, and Hamilton colleges, and been a research fellow at Harvard, Princeton and the University of London.