Senate leaves Social Security’s Colvin, others, waiting for confirmation

The Senate left Washington without confirming many of President Barack Obama’s executive-branch nominees, including Carolyn Colvin, his choice to lead the Social Security Administration.

A few nominees have generated controversy. Others simply could not compete for lawmakers’ attention so close to the November elections. Regardless of why the Senate chose not to vote, the silence leaves agencies with fill-ins at the top and more uncertainty for at least several weeks.

“Without strong leadership, problems develop,” said Don Kettl, professor of public policy at the University of Maryland. “When we start talking about deputy secretaries and agency administrators, the effects are especially nasty. The deputy secretaries are typically the chief operating officers. The agency administrators are in charge of making sure what the government has to do gets done.”

While some nominees may get the nod after the elections, Kettl predicts others will drop their quests if not confirmed by the end of this year.

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“Then we’re getting into the never-never land of the last two years of the administration, where there’s always a high-level turnover of political appointees as they begin to seek opportunities in the private sector,” he said. “That is likely to make the situation even worse.”

Below is a sampling of those still waiting, and a few who have given up.

Still waiting:

  • Carolyn Colvin, Social Security commissioner: The acting head of the Social Security Administration now, Colvin was approved by the Senate Finance Committee just last week. All but two senators, Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), supported her nomination. Her confirmation hearing in August was largely uneventful.
  • Nani Coloretti, Housing and Urban Development deputy secretary: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has held up the nomination to press the Treasury Department, where Coloretti serves as assistant secretary for management, for alleged violations of federal hiring laws. A spokesperson for the senator says he has received “a handful of emails” from the department, but not everything he requested.
  • Michael Carroll, USAID inspector general: Now the acting inspector general of USAID, Carroll may hold the record for the longest wait this congressional session. He was nominated in July 2013. The agency hasn’t had a permanent inspector general in nearly three years. Senate inaction also has left vacant top positions in the agency’s Middle East and Asia bureaus.
  • Sharon Block, National Labor Relations Board member: If you don’t succeed at first, try, try again? President Obama appointed Block to the board during a congressional recess in 2012, a move the Supreme Court declared illegal. The President then tapped Block for the position later that year, only to withdraw her name in a deal to get Senate Republicans to go along with three other board members. Obama renominated Block in July.

Not happening:

  • Rhea Suh, Fish and Wildlife assistant secretary: After a rough confirmation process, Suh withdrew her name last week and left the government. She will take over the helm of the nonprofit National Resources Defense Council in January. Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee painted Suh as biased against the natural gas industry. Suh spent five years with the Obama Administration, ending as Interior assistant secretary for policy, management and budget.
  • Debo Adegbile, assistant attorney general for civil rights: Adegbile withdrew his name last week, choosing to remain in private practice. Police unions had fought the nomination because of legal work Adegbile had done years earlier on behalf of a convicted cop killer.

This one you can’t blame on the Senate:

President Obama has yet to nominate someone to lead the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration. NHTSA is under intense scrutiny because of its sluggish response to revelations that General Motors installed defective ignition switches in some of its cars. At a hearing last week, senators urged the White House to name a successor to former administrator David Strickland, who left in January. With a gap at the top, it has fallen to Deputy Administrator David Friedman to lead the agency.

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