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Presidential Appointee Initiative Wraps Up 4-Year Study

Four years and almost $4 million later, getting a presidential appointee approved doesn’t happen any faster, but it is something that will continue to be fought for among the area’s watchdog groups.

Last week the Presidential Appointee Initiative, a project of the Brookings Institution, held its concluding event and sent its final project, a brochure encouraging government service, to 25,000 civic leaders nationwide.

While the group’s senior adviser, Paul C. Light, a New York University professor, said he doesn’t think the process has been significantly reformed, he hopes the group’s efforts will aid potential appointees by providing information about what to expect during what can be a complicated, hazing-like process.

“They’d get a package of forms and they didn’t really know what they were getting into,” he said, noting that if the project had a bumper sticker it would read, “It ain’t as bad as you think it is.”

Light is disappointed that the White House and Senate haven’t been able to further streamline the process, which involves about 50 different forms that often ask for the same information and cost appointees accountant and lawyer fees.

“We haven’t been able to get the White House and the Senate to agree on even modest changes,” he said. “I think Congress and the president really show a disrespect for public service when they make it so difficult to serve and so needlessly. It’s a terrible way to treat people who want to serve.”

Using personal holds against nominees is becoming more widespread as the process has turned into an ever-increasing battleground for political jabs, he said.

“Now it’s routine to put holds on individuals that have nothing to do with the qualifications of the nominee,” Light said. “I think that’s a big change since the 1980s.”

In the meantime, Light is proud of some changes the White House made to the personal data system, although he said that much of the process controlled by executive order could be revamped with the stroke of a pen.

“I think there’s an agreement between the White House and the Senate that the process doesn’t work,” he said. “The tragedy is that they don’t seem to want to do anything about it.”

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