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Obama Team Slow to Fill Vacancies in Treasury, Other Agencies

A large number of sub-Cabinet positions across the federal government have yet to be filled, as the Obama administration carefully vets candidates for the Treasury Department and other agencies. A public service professor and New York Times reporter give an update.

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    As if the weakening economy, other domestic problems, and two wars overseas were not enough for President Obama to deal with, the large number of still-vacant positions across the federal government is complicating matters further.

    Asked about the unfilled slots today, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration's staffing process is moving forward.

    ROBERT GIBBS, White House press secretary: There's a rigorous process involved. We hope that we're working with Capitol Hill to ensure that, at the same time there's appropriate rigor and vetting, that there's not in any way any undue delay in ensuring that good people who want to serve their country can get into the jobs that they've been nominated for.


    For more on the causes and the impact of the delays in filling top jobs in the new administration, we're joined by New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny and Paul Light, professor of public service at New York University and author of the book "A Government Ill Executed: The Decline of the Federal Service and How to Reverse It."

    Thank you both for being with us.

    And, Jeff Zeleny, to you first. You're the one who asked Robert Gibbs that question. Where does the administration stand in terms of filling jobs?

  • JEFF ZELENY, New York Times:

    Well, the administration is a little frustrated by this. Right now, the numbers, they always say that they're doing better than previous presidents have, but what they don't say is their problems are and their challenges are far greater than previous presidents.

    So some 71 people have been nominated or named for positions. Only 41 of them have been nominated; only 28 of them have been confirmed. And these are for senior, senior positions.

    So, really, what's happening here — I think one administration official I talked to today explained it the best. It's like when you show up to an airport, a security line, all these applicants are standing in line. And if one person doesn't take off their shoes, the line grows and grows and grows.

    And that's exactly what happened with the tax problems of someone like Tom Daschle, someone like a Timothy Geithner, the treasury secretary, so that's what has happened here. So now they're trying to take steps to sort of speed this process along, which is a challenge.


    Paul Light, how does this compare with previous administrations we've watched?

  • PAUL LIGHT, New York University:

    Well, Obama is running a little bit ahead of George W. Bush. He's running a little bit behind Bill Clinton. But, you know, all three were remarkably slow.

    So to say you're ahead of recent presidents is not saying much at all. You've got a very sluggish process that has become much more burdensome over the last 50 years.

    John F. Kennedy was in office with a full sub-cabinet and cabinet within about two-and-a-half months of election. Barack Obama will be lucky to have his last appointee in by the first of the year. It's just a terrible process.