Cabinet Confirmation Process Needs Overhaul

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There are many processes in government that just don’t work very well or at all, among them the confirmation of the President’s Cabinet appointees.

First of all, it’s a waste of time and resources to have an independently-staffed Commission on Appointments separate from Congress, when all of the CA members are Senators and House Representatives.

While it’s totally impossible to remove politics from the confirmation process, there should be less bureaucracy and more transparency.  It also needs to be more of a truly democratic process.

A few things come to mind:

  • Even before the president submits a nomination for confirmation, the vetting process should already occur.  This could have avoided the fiasco involving the citizenship of former Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr. In the U.S., all potential nominees undergo a rigorous background check by the government’s investigative bodies like the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and Office of Government Ethics, before the President names his choice for the position.
  • The confirmation hearings should be done in committees of the Senate, depending on the position being confirmed.  For example, a Cabinet nominee for Secretary of Foreign Affairs should appear before the Foreign Affairs Committee; a nominee for Secretary of Justice should appear before the Committee on Justice, etc.
  • When the committee hearings are done, the committee should refer the confirmation to the entire membership of the Senate — whether to confirm or reject.  And the Senate will then vote on the committee’s recommendation.
  • Notice I said “Senate” and not the “House of Representatives.”  The rationale for this is that the Senators represent the entire country as opposed to the Representatives who represent their particular districts.  It will be too unwieldy if every Representative gets involved in the confirmation process.
  • There should be a mandated time frame for the confirmation process to happen and conclude.  It should be done within the first three months of the nomination by the President.  This would eliminate situations where, like in the case of former DENR Secretary Gina Lopez, a Cabinet Secretary has already been in office for almost a year.  OR, as in the case of former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and former Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman who have been in office for four years before they were confirmed.
  • Currently, if the Commission on Appointments refuses to initiate the confirmation process, the President has the prerogative to re-appoint his nominee until the CA decides to move forward with the process.
  • The CA has also adopted a new, three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule in which a nominee who has been rejected by the commission can only be re-nominated up to three times.  I like this new rule and I hope that if the President truly believes in his choice for the Cabinet position, he avail of this rule to the maximum.  It will not be a waste of time; rather, it will give the CA an opportunity to assess the performance of the Cabinet appointee.  After all, it’s not all about resumes and qualifications, but performance.
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