Senate Prepares to Fill Trump Team’s Management Gaps

April 3, 2018 Nancy Ognanovich

This analysis was first available to Bloomberg Government subscribers.

A push is underway to fill holes remaining in President Donald Trump’s lineup of deputy department heads—the managers who oversee the day-to-day work of the federal government’s 2 million civilian employees.

Most deputy secretaries were easily confirmed in Trump’s first year. But nominations for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Commerce Department and Treasury Department were withdrawn.

The administration has decided to operate without Senate-confirmed deputies at the Treasury and Commerce departments.

“These are the chief operating officers of the agencies, and it matters that you’re missing one of the major parts of the machinery driving the agenda,” said Robert Shea, a former Office of Management and Budget associate director who’s now with Grant Thornton.

“I think in some cases they’ve decided they won’t send nominees, and, in others, there are delays in clearing nominated officials,” Shea said. “Then there’s also a paucity of candidates. Those three factors are limiting the administration’s ability to get their team on the field.”

Setting Priorities

Filling two of the vacancies will be one of the Senate’s priorities when it returns from the spring recess, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.

McConnell has scheduled votes on limiting debate on the nominations of Patrick Pizzella to be the Labor Department’s deputy secretary and Andrew Wheeler to be the deputy at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Still awaiting a place on the Senate schedule: the nomination of Mitchell Zais to serve as the Education Department’s deputy secretary.

The Senate confirmed a dozen deputies between April and October last year. Many won by lopsided margins or sailed into office by unanimous consent, without a recorded vote.

Pizzella’s nomination was approved in committee in October, then was returned to the White House when the year ended without Senate action. Wheeler’s nomination was transmitted from the White House in October and reported from committee in November, and also was sent back to the White House

Abramoff Connection

Though Pizzella won confirmation to a different Labor Department post during George W. Bush’s administration and also was nominated by President Barack Obama for a job at the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which handles disputes involving unionized federal workers, Democrats said they have concerns about Pizzella’s ties to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and about his work lobbying to keep the minimum wage of the Marianas Islands lower than that of mainland U.S. workers.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has expressed reservations about EPA nominee Wheeler, who as an attorney for Faegre Baker Daniels lobbied on behalf of companies such as Murray Energy Corp., Energy Fuels Resources Inc., and Xcel Energy.
Wheeler previously was an aide to the EPW Committee’s former chairman, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.).

The White House wasn’t happy about having to wait for cloture votes before the Senate can vote on confirming Pizzella and Wheeler.

“Eleven of the president’s nominees have been approved without a single dissenting vote, yet still forced to go through a 30 hours of debate to essentially slow down the Senate calendar simply for the purpose of obstruction,” Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short told reporters at a briefing at the White House.

However, Democrats haven’t been the only ones withholding consent for quick confirmations. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said he placed a hold on the nomination of Russell Vought to serve as the OMB deputy over a dispute involving disaster aid for Texas. Cornyn ended up voting for Vought, who was confirmed in February with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a tie.

Zais was among the administration picks whose nominations were resubmitted in January.
The retired Army brigadier general is a former president of a college affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Senate Democrats said at his confirmation hearing that they have concerns about his support for voucher programs that use public money to pay for private and religious school tuition.

Maybe Never

Trump may choose to leave two other deputy secretary posts vacant.

Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said in October that he had no plans to fill the department’s No. 2 slot after James Donovan withdrew his nomination and Brian Brooks took himself out of contention before being nominated.

Instead, Sigal Mandelker was named acting deputy administrator. She previously had been confirmed to serve as Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

Similarly, the Commerce Department is making do with an acting deputy after Trump withdrew the nomination of Todd Ricketts last April.

Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Clubs, had been unable to divest his financial holdings to the satisfaction of the Office of Government Ethics. Rather than transmit a new nominee, Karen Dunn Kelley is serving as the acting deputy. She previously was confirmed to be the undersecretary for economic affairs.

The White House withdrew the nomination of Daniel Craig to serve as FEMA deputy administrator amid questions about government travel and timekeeping records while he was in the Bush administration. As the administration and Congress sought to respond to Hurricane Harvey, the Senate quickly confirmed on voice vote Daniel Kaniewski to be FEMA’s deputy administrator for protection and national preparedness.

Kaniewski subsequently was named agency’s acting deputy administrator.

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