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Thanks for stopping by! As you can see, this blog was a casualty of too many competing commitments (driven most of all by the ticking of the “tenure clock”). While we haven’t posted here in awhile, we continue to plug away on the research. If you’re interested, drop us a line. My email:



In Roll Call (9/29): Patrick Roberts and Matthew Dull, “Is Obama using his appointment power effectively?”

So Diligent!

So Diligent!

True, not much activity here as of late, but we’ve been busy writing! Here are two recent papers on appointees:

Dull, Matthew and Patrick S. Roberts, 2009. “Continuity, Competence, and the Succession of Senate-Confirmed Agency Appointees, 1989-2009,” Presidential Studies Quarterly. 39:3 (September): 432-453.

Dull, Matthew M., Roberts, Patrick, Choi, Sang Ok and Keeney, Michael. 2009. “Appointee Confirmation and Tenure: Politics, Policy, and Professionalism in Federal Agency Leadership, 1989-2009”. APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

Among the “eggheads” (to borrow a slightly dated term) dominating the upper tiers of the Obama administration – Summers and Orszag being perhaps the most prominent examples – Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein, named by Obama to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), may be my favorite. Sunstein is brilliant, an unbelievably productive scholar – and, indeed, that presents something of hazard. Sunstein’s 2008 book with economist Richard Thaler Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness was widely read – and has generated much discussion about what it means for OIRA.

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Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins

The Frances Perkins Center is hosting several upcoming events celebrating our first female cabinet member and still the longest-serving Secretary of Labor. The first is this Tuesday (4/21) at 4:00 PM at the Department of Labor’s Frances Perkins Building, 200 Constitution Ave. The recent Perkins biography by Kirstin Downey is discussed here.

From GovExec:

President Barack Obama on Wednesday said he would nominate Craig Fugate, an experienced first responder who now leads Florida’s division of emergency management, to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A career firefighter in a state known for natural disasters, Fugate has served as Florida’s state coordinating officer in 23 declared state emergencies, 11 of which were presidentially declared disasters. “Craig has what it takes to help us improve our preparedness, response and recovery efforts, and I can think of no one better to lead FEMA,” Obama said.

Karen Cobuluis, a spokeswoman for the National Emergency Management Association, said the organization “is very happy that someone of Craig’s experience has been nominated to lead FEMA.”

Fugate, who has been a member of the board of directors at NEMA for several years and chairs the response and recovery committee there, is well-known in the emergency management community, she said.

In The Hill, our foray into public advocacy.

Op-ed: How Congress should repair the Vacancies Act
By Patrick Roberts and Matthew Dull

The Vacancies Act is a leaky, 19th-century vessel with a noble purpose: to quickly fill temporary agency leadership positions while maintaining the Senate’s advice and consent role over appointments. Over the past century, however, the act has run aground on an increasingly Byzantine assortment of agencies and presidential attempts at control. Today, the act is untenable. The executive and legislative branches interpret parts of the act differently, resulting in wild variations in compliance across agencies and appointments. Congress needs to plug the act’s holes in order to shore up the integrity of the appointment process by establishing a clear set of rules and transparency.

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I have already voiced some irritation at the proliferation of “czars” filling up the new administration – it’s a topic of much commentary around the web (here and here). The complaint is partially aesthetic (a czar?), but The Post today carries a piece summarizing the very real strategic risks. In areas like environmental and health policy, the Obama team recognizes the demand for constant White House attention in order to push presidential priorities through the tangle of agencies and interest groups.

Though, much to his credit, the president-elect seems willing and capable of managing an enormous amount of information, the “envoy” strategy also acknowledges the limitations on Obama’s time and attention. By appointing so many heavyweights and giving them proximity to the Oval Office, Obama signals his willingness to share power and some the limelight. It certainly looks like an attempt to learn from history, and I’m sure it is. Longtime observer Calvin Mackenzie rightly calls the extent to which Obama has used the strategy of formally assigning White House positions “unprecedented” in recent presidencies. But history also points to the risks. The Post quotes Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: “We’re going to have so many czars…It’s going to be a lot of fun, seeing the czars and the regulators and the czars and the Cabinet secretaries debate.”

Last week’s surprise withdrawal of Governor Bill Richardson from consideration as President-elect Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Commerce was a setback for the transition, but not altogether inconsistent with the position’s recent history. Commerce like the other large Cabinet Departments is not a single but a collection of government agencies with hugely different missions, among them the International Trade Administration, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Census Bureau. The Department of Commerce is a muddle and the Secretary of Commerce has long been among the top prizes for the president’s political supporters. Read the rest of this entry »

Following up on Patrick’s post, Slate’s Fred Kaplan offers a reasoned defense of the Panetta choice. The difficult trade-offs seem clearly to have delayed the pick – and the roll-out was uncharacteristically bumpy, but the transition seems committed to calming the waters. In an important steo (and consistent with Patrick’s thought) the transition is signaling  it will retain the C.I.A Deputy Director Stephen Kappes. An agency veteran, Kappes was pushed out during the Goss era and returned to the CIA under Director Hayden. His returned was widely viewed as a boost to badly-damaged morale at CIA. Here’s what the Post wrote in 2006 about the return of Kappes to CIA: Read the rest of this entry »