Presidentially Appointed Jobs Requiring Senate Approval

That Senate Part Can Get Sticky

Senate hearing
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) questions Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump's pick to be the next Secretary of Education, during her senate confirmation hearing. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

What a compliment! The President of the United States has named you to fill a top-level government position, maybe even a Cabinet-level job. Well, enjoy a glass of bubbly and take some slaps on the back, but don't sell the house and call the movers just yet. The president may want you, but unless you also win the approval of the U.S. Senate, it's back to the shoe store on Monday for you.

Across the federal government, nearly 1,200 executive level jobs may be filled only by individuals appointed by the president and approved by a simple majority vote of the Senate.

For new incoming presidents, filling many, if not most, of these vacated positions as quickly as possible represents a major part of their presidential transition process, as well as taking a significant portion of time throughout the remainder of their terms.

What Kind of Jobs are These?

According to a Congressional Research Service report, these presidentially-appointed positions requiring Senate approval can be categorized as follows:

  • Secretaries of the 15 Cabinet agencies, deputy secretaries, under secretaries and assistant secretaries, and general counsels of those agencies: Over 350 positions
  • Justices of the Supreme Court: 9 positions (Supreme Court justices serve for life subject to death, retirement, resignation or impeachment.)
  • Certain jobs in the independent, non-regulatory executive branch agencies, like NASA and the National Science Foundation: Over 120 positions
  • Director positions in the regulatory agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration: Over 130 positions
  • U.S. Attorneys and U.S. Marshals: About 200 positions
  • Ambassadors to foreign nations: Over 150 positions
  • Presidential appointments to part-time positions, like the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System: Over 160 positions

Politics Can Be a Problem

Certainly the fact that these positions require the approval of the Senate poses the possibility that partisan politics may play a critical role in the presidential appointment process.

Especially during times when one political party controls the White House and another party holds a majority in the Senate, as was the case during the second term of President Barak Obama, Senators of the opposition party are more likely to try to delay or reject the president’s nominees.

Recess Appointments: The Presidents’ End Run

Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution gives presidents a way to at least temporarily bypass the Senate in making presidential appointments.

Specifically, the third clause of Article II, Section 2 grants the president the power to “fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.”

The courts have held that this means that during times the Senate is in a recess, the president can make appointments without the need for Senate approval. However, the appointee must be approved by the Senate by the end of the next session of Congress, or when the position becomes vacant again.

While the Constitution does not address the issue, the Supreme Court in its 2014 decision in the case of National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning ruled that the Senate must be in recess for at least three consecutive days before the president can make recess appointments.

This process, popularly known as “recess appointments,” is often highly controversial.

In an attempt to prevent recess appointments, the minority party in the Senate often holds “pro forma” sessions during recesses lasting longer than three days. While no legislative business is conducted in a pro forma session, they ensure that Congress is not officially adjourned, thus blocking the president from making recess appointments.

Presidentially Appointed Jobs With No Senate Needed

If you really want to work “at the pleasure of the president,” but don’t want to have to face the scrutiny of the U.S. Senate, there are more than 320 other high level government jobs that the president can fill directly without the Senate’s consideration or approval.

The jobs, known as PA, or “Presidential Appointment” jobs pay from about $99,628 to about $180,000 per year and offer full federal employee benefits, according to the Government Accountability Office.

 

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Longley, Robert. "Presidentially Appointed Jobs Requiring Senate Approval." ThoughtCo, Feb. 23, 2017, thoughtco.com/presidentially-appointed-jobs-requiring-senate-approval-3322227. Longley, Robert. (2017, February 23). Presidentially Appointed Jobs Requiring Senate Approval. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/presidentially-appointed-jobs-requiring-senate-approval-3322227 Longley, Robert. "Presidentially Appointed Jobs Requiring Senate Approval." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/presidentially-appointed-jobs-requiring-senate-approval-3322227 (accessed December 16, 2017).