By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Nomination process out of control

The latest casualty of what can only be called the administration’s vetting hysteria (call it “vetsteria” maybe for short) is Jon Cannon, a longtime career civil servant at the Environmental Protection Agency who served in political positions at EPA during the Clinton administration – first as assistant secretary for management (where I got to know him a bit) and later as general counsel – and had been nominated as deputy administrator at EPA until withdrawing last week. Cannon, who currently teaches at the University of Virginia Law School, served on the board of a nonprofit that had apparently misused EPA grant money in some way. Service on a nonprofit board is itself a public service, and there was no suggestion that Cannon had in the slightest way profited from this problem or knew about it.

According to a recent article in the Financial Times, cafeteria talk at Brookings is dominated by stories about “vetting hell.” The article discussed a candidate who ran into trouble when unable to produce receipts for furniture bought a decade ago that was later donated to charity, and another asked questions about his wife’s sex life at college. Someone I know told me he had been grilled about whether it was appropriate to deduct all his monthly wireless internet fee as a business expense.

The worst thing is that these wounds are self-inflicted. The Republican Senator who had taken this issue up, based on background information provided in connection with Cannon’s nomination indicated that he didn’t regard the problem as a bar to confirmation. There has been some discussion among Democrats about why these problems have cropped up more in Democratic than Republican administrations. If one rejects the unlikely suggestion that Democrats are less ethical than Republicans, it would appear that the difference is in the level of self-imposed vetsteria.

This is bad for good government. In the short term, it delays getting a political team in place. (I wrote in a recent blog post that one shouldn’t assume that cabinet secretaries are “home alone” without political appointees, but of course it is important to have a political team on the job.) More broadly, it deprives the government of honorable, smart potential appointees such as Jon Cannon, while discouraging others, unwilling to go through vetsteria, from seeking appointment in the first place.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Apr 02, 2009 at 12:08 PM


Featured

  • Telecommunications
    Stock photo ID: 658810513 By asharkyu

    GSA extends EIS deadline to 2023

    Agencies are getting up to three more years on existing telecom contracts before having to shift to the $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions vehicle.

  • Workforce
    Shutterstock image ID: 569172169 By Zenzen

    OMB looks to retrain feds to fill cyber needs

    The federal government is taking steps to fill high-demand, skills-gap positions in tech by retraining employees already working within agencies without a cyber or IT background.

  • Acquisition
    GSA Headquarters (Photo by Rena Schild/Shutterstock)

    GSA to consolidate multiple award schedules

    The General Services Administration plans to consolidate dozens of its buying schedules across product areas including IT and services to reduce duplication.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.