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Quality Leadership Lost To Political Hostility

By James Donahue

The constant in-fighting the political feuding occurring in Washington has had an impact on the quality of people willing to claw through the fire to accept important presidential appointments.

This has been observed throughout the years during efforts to select good men and women to fill seats on the U. S. Supreme Court and fill important cabinet and department leadership positions. We do not remember a time like this when an entire year of a president’s term has passed without all of the appointments filled and key government offices operating at half-staff.

The latest and most visible withdrawal was that of Erroll Southers, President Obama’s choice to head the Transportation Security Administration. This was a key job at a time when this office, operating under the umbrella of the Homeland Security Protection Agency, is carrying the burden of protecting travelers from terrorist attacks.

Southers’ credentials are impeccable. He was a former FBI agent currently serving as assistant chief of airport police in Los Angeles. Yet his nomination remained blocked for months by Republican opposition. In his announcement that he was withdrawing his nomination Southers complained that he had become a political lightning rod. “I am not a politician. I’m a counter-terrorist expert. They took an apolitical person and politicized my career.”

Another loss to the nation was the withdrawal of Annette Nazareth from the position of deputy in the United States Treasury Department at a time of the nation’s most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. Nazareth, a former staffer and commissioner with the Securities and Exchange Commission, fell under severe assault for what opponents said was lax oversight of the banking industry.

While many might level similar criticisms against Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, for whom Nazareth might have served, Geithner has been struggling to head off this crisis almost single handed. At last count, none of the 17 deputies he should have helping him have been seated. None of the appointments have yet been confirmed by the Senate.

Other Obama appointments that have backed off after weeks and months of personal assault from Republican ranks include Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the high-profile CNN medical correspondent picked for the office of Surgeon General; former Senator Tom Daschle who was named to run the Department of Health and Human Services and oversee the overhaul of the nation’s broken health care system; and New Mexico Governor and former presidential candidate Bill Richardson to the high post as Secretary of Commerce.

Yet another Obama choice for the Commerce Secretary slot, New Hampshire Senator Judd Cregg, also withdrew his nomination citing “irresolvable conflicts.”

There has been much criticism of President Obama and his administration for failing to bring about much of the “change” Mr. Obama promised during his hard-fought campaign for the nation’s top job. But in all fairness, a president working without a full staff of people to help make and carry out such changes cannot be expected to work miracles.

It is no secret that Mr. Obama was all but sabotaged by the outgoing Bush Administration and left with a collapsing financial system, two ongoing wars, a crumbling infrastructure and a bulging national debt to work with by the time he took office. He has since found that efforts to win bi-partisan support in both the House and Senate have been stonewalled by a solid block of consistent “no” votes by the Republicans and some “Blue Dog” Democrats.

The Republicans in the Senate have succeeded in blocking the presidential appointments with incredible skill.

A 1996 Task Force on Presidential Appointments found that the process of filling hundreds of key positions by appointment followed by Senatorial confirmation has become such a politically twisted process it both discourages and demoralizes candidates. This tends to turn away the best people for these jobs. They just do not care to have their good names and reputations dragged through the mud for months.

Some potential candidates object to making extensive financial disclosures required of appointees. Others choose not to go through the process for a job that pays less than the salaries they get in the private sector.

The candidates who surrender to the rigorous investigations and questioning by Senate subcommittees often give up out of sheer frustration over the protracted process, the task force found.

The appointment process has been clearly shown to be broken, and consequently an obstruction to good functioning government. Yet since 1996, nothing has been done to fix it. The nation has obviously suffered because of it.