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Obama sounds off on GSA nomination hold

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President Obama today sounded off on the hold that’s been placed on Martha Johnson’s nomination to head the General Services Administration, even as the Senate planned a procedural maneuver to force a vote on her confirmation.

After addressing the Senate Democratic Policy Committee Issues Conference this morning, the president opened the floor to questions. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, voiced his frustration that many of Obama’s judicial nominees and political appointees were being blocked by Republicans.

While conceding that Democrats have been guilty of the same thing in the past, Obama said Republicans are blocking nominees for reasons that have nothing to do with their qualifications for their prospective jobs.

He then specifically mentioned Johnson, whose nomination has been held up by Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., because Bond wants GSA to promise to move a federal complex to downtown Kansas City.

Nobody can tell me that there’s anything particularly wrong with her.  They’re blocking her because of some unrelated matter. Don’t hold this — this woman hostage.  If you have an objection about my health-care policies, then let’s debate the health-care policies.  But don’t suddenly end up having a GSA administrator who is stuck in limbo  somewhere because you don’t like something else that we’re doing.

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New OPM guidance on ‘burrowing in’

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A quick heads-up, in case you haven’t heard: The Office of Personnel Management issued a memo late last week announcing a new policy on political appointees “burrowing in” at the end of an administration.

The memo, from OPM director John Berry, requires all agencies to get OPM’s permission before moving political appointees into career positions (at all levels). OPM previously required permission for such moves only during election years. The policy, which takes effect in 2010, applies to anyone who has held a politically-appointed job in the previous five years.

OPM’s reviews will be conducted by career employees.

“Burrowing in” attracted a lot of attention late last year, as it does every election year: Roughly 20 political appointees switched to career jobs during the waning months of the Bush administration.

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The broken appointment process

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Update: Included a clarification below. The story about Sen. Bond’s hold on Martha Johnson’s nomination has changed; he’s now reportedly delaying the nomination because he wants the government to approve a $175 million federal office building in Kansas City, according to the Kansas City Star.

Original post: The New York Times has a story this morning about the political appointment process, pointing out that just 43 percent of the Obama administration’s senior political positions have been filled:

While career employees or holdovers fill many posts on a temporary basis, Mr. Obama does not have his own people enacting programs central to his mission. He is trying to fix the financial markets but does not have an assistant treasury secretary for financial markets. He is spending more money on transportation than anyone since Dwight D. Eisenhower but does not have his own inspector general watching how the dollars are used. He is fighting two wars but does not have an Army secretary.

I think it’s fair to say this has less to do with anything the Obama administration is (or is not) doing, and more to do with institutional dysfunction in the Senate and the sheer number of political jobs. Obama has, in fact, nominated an Army secretary; he named John McHugh to the post back in June. Senators have delayed his confirmation. His nominee for GSA administrator, Martha Johnson, is reportedly being delayed in the Senate because Sen. Kit Bond wants a federal building approved in Kansas City.

And, as the Times notes, he has some 500 senior policymaking posts to fill — not including thousands of other Schedule C jobs, ambassadorships and the like.

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The ethics pledge

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We noted earlier today that President Barack Obama wasted no time in laying out a series of executive orders designed to set the tone for an open, transparent government that is responsive to the American public.

Part of that effort comes in the form of an ethics pledge that every political appointee will have to sign. The pledge applies to all appointees brought on board after Jan. 20 — including every non-career appointee to the Senior Executive Service or equivalent systems, policymaking and confidential jobs under Schedule C, and all other noncareer slots filled by the president or vice president.

The pledge aims to close the revolving door between public servants and federal contractors and shut down the influence of lobbyists on the administration’s activities.

We’ve got the full text of the pledge, after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Transition Watch: Empty Seats

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The hour of the inauguration is getting closer and we’re sure to hear a lot about the nation’s financial crisis in soon-to-be President Barack Obama’s speech today.

In yesterday’s edition of Federal Times I wrote about the stimulus plan. The story discussed how many of the programs Obama and congressional Democrats want to set up will require more procurement staff than are on hand.

I thought it would be worth pointing out that Obama has yet to name leaders to key procurement slots. Obama’s choices for the chief of the General Services Administration and the administrator of Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget are still a mystery.

Although the career officials acting in those roles are working diligently to fill gaps in the acquisition work force and improve accountability, it occurs to me that political leaders with the political authority to drive home Obama’s message of transparency and accountability will be needed if Obama wants the stimulus plan to be properly administered.

Procurement fans, who do you think would be up for the task of leading the acquisition work force through this tough time?

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