Advice and Consent: Problems and Reform in the Senate Confirmation of Executive-Branch Appointees




A joint event from the Administrative Conference of the United States and the National Academy of Public Administration

The federal government relies on political appointees and career civil servants to operate effectively. Although most positions can be filled through ordinary hiring processes or presidential or agency-head appointment, about 1,200 top leadership positions currently require presidential nomination and Senate confirmation. These positions are frequently vacant for reasons including delays in the nomination and confirmation process. As the Administrative Conference of the United States has recognized, such vacancies can “lead to agency inaction, generate confusion among nonpolitical personnel, and lessen political accountability.”

Through two virtual panels, this forum examined the causes and effects of delays in the current process for nominating and confirming agency officials and explores potential reforms.

Panel 1: Problems with the Current Senate-Confirmation Process

Delays in the process for confirming nominees to top agency leadership positions have been blamed for frequent vacancies across the executive branch. This panel examined the cause of delays in the current process and the effects that vacancies have on the operation of federal agencies and administration of federal programs.


  • Carolyn Colvin, Former Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration

  • David E. Lewis, Rebecca Webb Wilson University Distinguished Professor, Vanderbilt University

  • Anne Joseph O’Connell, Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law, Stanford University


  • Bertrall Ross, Justice Thurgood Marshall Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Virginia

Panel 2: Potential Reforms to the Senate Confirmation Process

Several reforms have been suggested to reduce delays in filling agency leadership positions, including streamlining Senate confirmation processes and revisiting which positions should require Senate confirmation. This panel examined legal, policy, and practical considerations related to these and other proposals.


  • John Duffy, Samuel H. McCoy II Professor of Law, University of Virginia
  • Bill Greenwalt, Visiting Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
  • Martha Kumar, Director, White House Transition Project
  • Paul Light, Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service, New York University
  • Max Stier, President and CEO, Partnership for Public Service


  • Renée M. Landers, Professor of Law, Suffolk University

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