The Revolving Door Project has warned continuously of the extraordinary consequences inherent to failing to staff the federal government. Now, more than a year and a half into Biden’s presidency, staffing failures across the government have borne many of the bitter fruits which we warned of, and continue to undermine the Biden administration’s agenda.
As we highlighted in January, for example, partisan gridlock at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has continued to hobble the communication regulator’s capacity to implement Biden administration goals such as restoring net-neutrality, expanding national broadband access, making and promoting digital equity, and otherwise ensuring the internet works in the interests of the public. Unfortunately, Biden’s pick to ensure a Democratic majority at the agency, Gigi Sohn, has been left floundering in the Senate for months amidst a ceaseless Republican blockade of her nomination. Similarly, a months-long confirmation battle at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) over Democrat nominee Bradley R. Crowell has left the commission – charged with regulating the safety of the nation’s nuclear power plants – stalled between two Democrats and two Republicans. Of course, Biden has finally nominated officials (who are now awaiting confirmation) to fill the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC), a body that issues federal sentencing guidelines and has the potential to implement tangible criminal legal reforms across the federal judiciary once its quorum is finally restored.
Independent agencies are crucial to the power and function of the executive branch because they offer opportunity for the real-world implementation of the executive agenda. However, despite the fact that Biden has made good progress on nominations now a year and a half into his administration, his agenda continues to be undermined by Republican animus and its weaponizing of an arduous, archaic, and unsustainable Senate confirmation process. Republican Senators Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, Pat Toomey, and others have all been leaders of this de facto nomination blockade at some point or another, dragging out the confirmation battles of dozens of leaders across the federal landscape. Their manipulation of Senate rules, such as through committee boycotts and an almost blanket rejection of unanimous consent agreements, has eaten through valuable Senate floor time for no reason other than to incapacitate the federal government for their own political points.
As such, we continue to argue for Senate rule changes to accelerate the confirmation process. To be clear, even if Senate Democratic leadership is unable to push forward the specific reforms outlined here, it is clear that this process is no longer working. Senate leadership should, at the very least, increase the costs of obstruction by pursuing such inconvenient measures as forcing the Senate to be in session into the night, over weekends, and into its summer break in order to clear the confirmation backlog.
For more information about particular agencies and nominations see the Agency Spotlight.
Nominations This Spring:
Since the end of January, President Biden has nominated 22 people to independent agency boards, including renominations of sitting members. Those are to the:
- Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSHIB) (Catherine J.K. Sandoval, Nonpartisan)
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (Democrat Kalpana Kotagal)
- Farm Credit Administration (FCA) (Democrat Vincent Garfield Logan)
- Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) (Democrat Richard Glick, Renomination)
- Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) (Democrat Ernest DuBester, Renomination)
- Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) (Democrat Daniel B. Maffei, Renomination; Republican Rebecca F. Dye, Renomination)
- Federal Reserve System Board of Governors (FRB) (Michael S. Barr, Nonpartisan)
- National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) (Democrat Todd Harper, Renomination)
- National Mediation Board (NMB) (Democrat Linda Puchala, Renomination)
- Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) (Democrat Bradley R. Crowell)
- Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) (Democrat Travis LeBlanc, Renomination; Republican Richard E. DiZinno)
- Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) (Democrat Jaime E. Lizarraga; Republican Mark Toshiro Uyeda)
- U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) (Democrats Carlton W. Reeves, Candice C. Wong, Laura E. Mate, John Gleeson; Republicans Claire McCusker Murray, Claria Horn Boom, Luis Felipe Restrepo)
Including these, the total number of Biden’s outstanding nominations, i.e. nominees still awaiting Senate confirmation, stands at 29. Across the 40 independent agencies that we track, this represents just 46 percent of the 63 seats Biden could currently fill. These 63 open seats are presently composed of 37 outright vacancies and 26 positions occupied by officials with expired terms. Of those, 12 (32 percent) of the vacancies and 13 (50 percent) of the expired seats could be filled by Democratic nominees, with an additional 14 (38 percent) of vacant seats and 5 (19 percent) of expired seats on non-partisan government boards and agencies.
Confirmations This Spring:
Since January, the Senate has confirmed:
- Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Democrat Mary T. Boyle
- Commodities Future Trading Commission (CFTC), Democrats Kristin N. Johnson, Christy Goldsmith Romero; Republicans Summer Kristine Mersinger, Caroline D. Pham
- U.S. Export-Import Bank (EXIMBANK), Democrats Reta Jo Lewis, Judith DelZoppo Pryor
- Federal Election Commission (FEC), Democrat Dara Lindenbaum
- Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), Sandra Thompson (Non-Partisan)
- Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), Democrat Susan Grundmann
- Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), Democrat Max Vekich
- Federal Reserve System Board of Governors (Fed), Lael Brainard, Philip Nathan Jefferson, Lisa DeNell Cook (Non-Partisan)
- Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB), Democrats Leona M. Bridges and Michael Gerber, Republican Dana K. Bilyeu
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Democrat Alvaro M. Bedoya
- Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), Democrats Raymond A. Limon and Cathy Ann Harris; Republican Tristan Lynn Leavitt
- Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Republican Annie Caputo
- Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), Democrat Sharon Bradford Franklin; Republican, Beth Ann Williams
- USPS Board of Governors (USPS), Democrat Daniel Mark Tangherlini, Republican Derek Kan
Agencies Awaiting Democratic Majorities:
The following boards are awaiting Democratic majorities. In some cases, the Biden administration has failed to nominate officials to fully vacant seats in order to attain these majorities a year into his administration. In others, the Biden administration is sitting on expired Democrat seats that should be renominated or replaced.
- Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB): Biden should nominate a Democrat to fill the vacant seat on this board.
- Election Assistance Commission (EAC): Biden should nominate, or renominate, the two expired Democratic seats.
- Farm Credit Administration (FCA): Biden has nominated a Democrat to fill a vacant seat, he should also nominate a Democrat to one of the FCA’s expired seats.
- National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB): Biden should nominate a Democrat to the vacant seat.
- Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC): Biden should nominate a Democrat to fill the vacant seat on this commission.
- United States International Trade Commission (USITC): Biden should nominate, or renominate, the two expired Democratic seats and nominate a Democrat to the commission’s additional vacant seat.
- Federal Election Commission (FEC): Biden should nominate two Democrats to the expired seats.
Democratic Majorities Delayed While Waiting Confirmation:
The following boards are awaiting Democratic majorities that are stalled by the Senate confirmation process.
- U.S. Export-Import Bank (EXIMBANK): Owen Edward Herrnstadt’s confirmation will give Democrats a majority.
- Federal Communications Commission (FCC): Gigi Sohn’s confirmation will give Democrats a majority.
- National Mediation Board (NMB): Linda Puchala’s re-confirmation will cement the agency’s Democratic majority.
- Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC): Bradley R. Crowell’s confirmation will give Democrats a majority.
- United States Sentencing Commission (USSC): The confirmations of Democrats Carlton W. Reeves, Candice C. Wong, Laura E. Mate, and John Gleeson will give Democrats a majority.
While the Biden administration continues to be decidedly delayed in naming its nominees, dysfunction in the Senate has remained a major obstacle to Democratic majorities on independent agency boards for months. Leaders in the administration and in Congress must finally take seriously these delays, and do something to comprehensively address them via common sense reforms to the confirmation process and procedural maneuvers that increase the political costs of delays.
Soon-to-be-Vacant Democratic Seats:
- Surface Transportation Board (STB)
- Robert E. Primus, Democrat, term expiring 12/31/2022, must vacate by 12/31/2023
- Martin J. Oberman, Democrat, term expiring 12/31/2023, must vacate by 12/31/2024
- National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)
- Thomas B. Chapman, Democrat, term expiring 12/31/2023, may remain until position is otherwise filled
- National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)
- Gwynne A. Wilcox, Democrat, term expiring 8/27/2023, must vacate by 8/27/2023
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, Democrat, term expiring 9/26/2022, may remain until position is otherwise filled
- Federal Maritime Commission (FMC)
- Daniel B Maffei, Democrat, term expiring 6/30/2022, must vacate by 6/30/2023
- Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
- Geoffery Adam Starks, Democrat, term expiring 7/1/2022, must vacate by 1/2/2024
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
- Charlotte A. Burrows, Democrat, term expiring 7/1/2023, may remain until position is otherwise filled
Other Agencies Awaiting Nominations:
- Internal Revenue Service Oversight Board (IRSOB): Biden should nominate at least three more officials in order to restore quorum.
- Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSHIB)
- Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB)
- Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
- Foreign Claims Settlement Commission (FCSC)
- United States Parole Commission (USPC)
Biden will be unable to secure majorities on several boards for months or years (assuming that no one steps down before their term expires).
Biden cannot have a majority on the…
- National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) until 8/2/2023
- Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) until 10/14/2022