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Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011

Floor Speech

Location: Washington DC


Mr. CARPER. Mr. President, I would like to begin my remarks this afternoon by congratulating several of our colleagues who have worked long and hard on this legislation, and their staffs who have worked equally long and hard: Senator Schumer and Senator Alexander; I see Senator Collins is on the floor; Senator Lieberman; our leaders, Democrat and Republican leaders, Senator Reid and Senator McConnell.

Anyone watching this debate from across America on C-SPAN might be wondering why is this important? Why are they doing this? Why are we spending several days, literally, in session in the Senate to focus on a nominations bill? Why? For those folks who might be wondering why, let me just offer these thoughts.

This administration has been in office for roughly 2 1/2 years now. If we look throughout the Federal Government, the executive branch of the government, most of the positions that require Presidential nominations and Senate confirmation have now been filled. But a number, including a number that are in highly important, highly critical positions, have not been. Until fairly recently this administration looked like what I describe as ``executive branch Swiss cheese.''

People sometimes wonder why the Federal Government in Washington does not work better and maybe why does it not work as well as our States. I want to take a moment, if I can, to compare the approach we used in Delaware. I know Senator Alexander is a former Governor. It is probably the approach they use in Tennessee, to fill key leadership positions in the executive branch of those State governments.

In my State, for example, the Governor nominates people to serve as cabinet secretaries in a dozen or so different departments. Those nominations have to be confirmed before the senate. They hold hearings and generally report those nominations favorably. In fact, in my 8 years as Governor, we never had the senate fail to report and to vote for one of our nominees for an executive branch department--for example, secretary of transportation, secretary of education, those kinds of appointments. Within those various departments of State government, the division directors are appointed by the Governor without confirmation by the senate. The rest of our line departments within State government in Delaware are not appointed by the Governor; they are literally chosen through the merit system and report up the chain of command through the director of the division to the secretary of the department. That is the way it works.

I remember when I was about to be sworn in as Governor. I met with the senate--it was a Democrat majority at the time--and they were interested in knowing who I was going to nominate to different positions. I explained who we had in mind. They said: We do not know some of those people. Some of them are from other States. We are not sure that we ought to be confirming them.

I asked them: Look, why don't we make a deal. Give me the team I feel that as Governor I am entitled to have, make sure they are honorable people, smart people, that sort of thing. But at the end of the day, let me have my team and go forward and try to govern in partnership with the legislative branch, and judge us in the end on how we perform.

To their credit, that is what the State senate decided to do. That is the way we operated for 8 years. They were 9 very good years. I was fortunate to be Governor at the same time that Bill Clinton was President, and we managed to balance our budget for 8 years in a row. We actually cut taxes 7 years in a row. We got ourselves a AAA credit rating for the first time in State history and still have it. That is the way we operated.

It does not look that way or operate that way here, and there are a number of reasons this administration, the last administration, and I suspect the one before that, a year or 2 years even into those administrations, the executive branch--if we look through the senior ranks of the leadership of the various departments--looked too much like executive branch Swiss cheese.

Senator Alexander and Senator Schumer, to their credit, are trying to change that. I commend them for their efforts. I think it is enormously important.

If you are trying to be the President and lead this country, you need your team. It is important that they be capable people, honorable people. But at the end of the day, a President of either party needs a good team, a strong team, filled sooner rather than later.

There are a number of reasons it is so difficult to get many of these vacancies filled. One of them is a reluctance on the part of some people to go through the process, the confirmation process. It takes forever in some cases. These nominees are asked to bare, not their souls but largely bare their lives to go through a process where they can be maybe not crucified but certainly exposed to anything they have ever done wrong in their lives. None of us is perfect.

I think that in itself deters people from wanting to go through this process. I was once nominated when I was Governor to serve on the Amtrak board by President Clinton. I remember how long it took just to fill out the paperwork--one set of paperwork for the executive branch, a totally different set of paperwork for the legislative branch.

I remember saying to my wife, after spending a weekend just to fill out the paperwork: I am not sure it is really worth doing all of this. I am really not sure it is worth it. I am sure for other folks who go through this process they probably reach the same conclusion at least once during the time they go through the paperwork.

We need to have not separate questionnaires, we need to synchronize, homogenize at least the paperwork, and hopefully put it in an electronic form so we can do it electronically--those nominees can do it electronically one time and be done with it and send it off to the right folks to look at.

One of the reasons we go slowly is--I will share with you--I was riding in Afghanistan or Pakistan, one of those countries a couple of months ago, riding around with a codel on a bus going from place to place. One of the folks on the bus said they were looking for somebody to put a hold on a nomination in order to get some leverage on something that Senator was trying to get from the administration--that is with a Democratic President and a Republican Senator. But I want to tell you, that conversation could have happened 4 years ago with a Democratic Senator and a Republican President. A lot of folks have used for years the ability to put a hold, to stop a nomination from moving forward, in order to gain some kind of political advantage, which has nothing to do maybe with the nominee or the nominee's ability to serve.

The other point I want to make--I shared this with some of our colleagues in our caucus, the Senate Democratic caucus, the other day. I talked to my colleagues about the work of the Government Accountability Office, GAO. Every year they publish, as most of us know, something called a High Risk List. And a high risk is just a whole lot of initiatives or problems that exist throughout the Federal Government that either are costing us a lot of money or are going to cost us a lot of money unless we do something different.

One of the top items on the GAO's High Risk List for years now has been major weapons systems cost overruns. In 2000, GAO determined that major weapons systems cost overruns--Department of Defense--was $42 billion. That

is a lot of money.

They update that list every year. They updated it for 2010 not long ago, and they concluded that major weapons systems cost overruns in 2010 had gone from $42 billion--10 years ago--to $402 billion in 2010.

I chair a subcommittee called Federal Financial Management, part of Homeland Security Government Affairs. We have held a number of hearings in recent years to try to figure out how we can get better results for less money--how we get better results for taxpayers for less money or better results for maybe not much more money.

As we drilled down on major weapons systems cost overruns, here is one of the things we found out. Through testimony offered by a fellow from--one of the top three people in acquisition in the Department of Defense, a fellow named Jim Finley, who reported to John Young, the top acquisition guy in the last administration, who reported to Bob Gates, the Secretary.

We brought in Jim Finley for testimony on major weapons systems cost overruns. Again, this is Secretary Gates, John Young, top acquisition guy at the Pentagon, and then Jim Finley. We asked Mr. Finley--I asked him a question: How long have you been in your job?

He told me how many months he had served in his job.

I asked him what kind of turnover he got from his predecessor.

He said: My predecessor left 18 months before I was confirmed for this position.

So I said: You mean, for like 18 months, there was no confirmed person in your position for acquisition to oversee the major weapons systems?

I said: How many direct reports did you have once you got into your job--how many folks were directly reporting to you?

He said: There are six direct reports to me in that job but only two of them were filled.

Just think about that. Here we are, the Department of Defense, hundreds of billions of dollars of weapons systems to oversee in acquisitions, and arguably the No. 2 person in acquisitions in the Department of Defense, that position was vacant for 18 months--18 months.

When he finally got confirmed, of the six direct reports, only two were filled. No wonder we have these huge weapons systems cost overruns--and it is not just an isolated incident. We brought in Jim Finley's counterpart today in this administration, a fellow named Frank Kendall. Good man. He testified earlier this year. Again, it is Bob Gates, the Secretary. Now it is Ashton Carter who is the top acquisition person in DOD. Then we have Frank Kendall.

I said to Mr. Kendall: How long have you been in the job?

He told me how many months.

I said: What kind of turnover did you get from your predecessor?

He said: My predecessor left 15 months before I got here.

My friends, I do not know how good we all are at connecting the dots, but when we have one of the top two people at the Department of Defense responsible for riding herd on the defense industry, all our contractors, and these contracts are for very expensive weapons systems--when we have a vacancy for 18 months in one administration, the next administration, pretty much like a vacancy for 15 months--that is no good. That is an invitation for disaster.

When we see the major weapons systems cost overruns go from $42 billion in 2000 to $400 billion 10 years later, I would suggest one of the reasons is because of this confirmation process, the vetting process. Really, the biggest problem of all is the administration. The administration takes forever to identify people to go in these positions, to vet these positions and actually give us a name.

There are no silver bullets in terms of solving this problem. We need a lot of silver BBs. One of the good things about the legislation before us is it provides a number of very helpful tools to expedite the consideration of nominees, to better ensure that the next administration, or even this administration a year or two from now if the President is reelected, that we do not end up with more and more executive branch Swiss cheese, which really translates to the taxpayers an enormous cost, costs we cannot afford with the budget deficit of over $1 trillion.

The last thing I want to say, if I may, I know people are offering amendments. I am going to call up an amendment to this bill in just a moment. It is an amendment that involves again our friends at GAO, the Government Accountability Office. Our amendment is pretty straightforward. It would require GAO to investigate and conduct a survey on the number of Presidentially appointed positions that are not Senate confirmed in each agency, a category of jobs that also routinely go unfilled for extended periods of time.

The study would provide recommendations as to whether eliminating or converting certain appointees to career positions would be more efficient. In addition, the survey should evaluate whether it is beneficial to reduce and convert specialized categories of appointees, such as inspector generals, chief financial officers, or acquisition officers to career status, not as politically appointed.

The purpose of the amendment is that the proposal, we believe, would provide an analysis of what is an efficient amount of Presidentially appointed positions governmentwide. It also would provide recommendations on how to further reduce or convert these positions.

As far as I can tell, it is not a controversial proposal. GAO does a lot of good work for us to help figure out how to operate more efficiently, also to use some common sense. My hope is that my colleagues will see fit to support it.


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