Nightmares in Appointment-Land.

I have a column up today on the deep problems in the presidential appointments process and what it will take to solve them. Here is a lay of the land, for people unfamiliar with the subject:

Progressives have been vocal about the Senate's obstruction of legislation and, recently, judicial nominees. But few people have noticed the Senate's obstruction of the executive branch and it's ability to function effectively. Indeed, at the 18-month mark of Obama's presidency -- this summer -- more than 20 percent of executive-branch positions were unfilled. At the moment, there are 177 pending nominations. Some, like Sargeant's, have been filled by recess appointment. But the vast majority have been left to languish.

This isn't new. Over the last two decades, the appointments process has become a wonky version of the beast with five heads; presidents are responsible for filling thousands of positions, nominees are forced to endure endless background checks and intense personal scrutiny, and appointees face the prospect of needless, partisan obstruction in the Senate. The result is an unwieldy process that discourages potential nominees from serving the government and keeps the president from staffing his administration with the best possible people.

Presidents and presidential candidates can make small steps toward alleviating the problem, but real reform must focus on the Senate and its growing dysfunction. Some reformers hope that the solution can be bipartisan, but as I argue, institutional reform is an inherently partisan project, and the best hope for changing the status quo is through partisan action. And at this moment, the best bet for reform is the growing progressive movement to repeal the filibuster.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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