Monday, March 16, 2009

How Obama's lofty campaign promises are crippling his own administration

The editors of The New Republic say:

Large blocks of government offices sit unfilled and critical jobs--those involved in managing the global economy, for example--go unperformed. Talk to those administration recruiters, and they'll complain about the difficulty of finding bodies to fill the posts. ... [T]hey have been deterred by one of the most rigorous human-resources operations in history. ...

As the [Washington] Post reported last week, the "intensified vetting process has left dozens of President Obama's picks to run the government mired in a seemingly endless confirmation limbo, frustrated and cut off from the departments they are waiting to serve and unable to perform their new duties."

Why the confirmation constipation? For one, there are more than a thousand presidential appointees that require Senate approval. Each has to pass a rigorous security check by the FBI, which conducts copious interviews not only with the nominee, but also with myriad acquaintances and colleagues. (One college president who was vetted for a part-time advisory-board position during the Clinton administration recalls FBI agents knocking on the doors of his fraternity-house neighbors to verify his character.)

Obama's insistence on having the most transparent administration in U.S. history has slowed the process even further, and his high-minded ethics standards have limited his ability to consider the full scope of talent. While the revolving door should be closed to lobbyists, there's something absurd about a process that treats human rights activists and consumer advocates as the ethical equivalent of K Street sharks, shutting them out of government. ...

President Obama needs to streamline this process before he erodes not only the willingness to serve, but his own ability to govern.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias (who, like me, has supported Obama since the early days of the presidential race) says this about Obama's anti-lobbyist pledge:
Way back in August 2007 I criticized Obama’s lobbyist pledge as “meaningless grandstanding.” That turns out to have been too optimistic....

[D]umb as the pledge was, it’s dumber still to stick with it. Flip-flopping will look bad, but nobody will care in 2012 about an old flip-flop. By contrast, lots of people will care by 2012 if we’re in the midst of a prolonged depression. The premium has to be on getting smart, effective people in place in order to frame and implement smart, effective policy. At the moment, Obama is still floating on a positive image and the fact that people rightly blame his predecessor for the current situation being so bad. But that brand isn’t going to be worth anything in a couple of years unless he brings back growth. He should admit that the initial pledge was ill-considered and a bit cynical and that it would be even more cynical to stick with a mistaken promise merely in order to avoid the need to admit a mistake.