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Begging for Competence By: Marion Edwyn Harrison, Esq.
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, February 19, 2009

In the executive branch of the federal government, exclusive of many somewhat routine military and career-diplomatic appointments, there are hundreds of offices to which the president nominates and the Senate must advise and consent or, as commonly termed, “confirm” the nomination.

An amazing and unprecedented number of top positions recently have run into trouble. The trouble in large measure derives from extraordinarily incomplete “vetting” of nominees by those whom President Obama has entrusted with that responsibility.  Some – like those which give every appearance of income-tax evasion – defy imagination.

To compound the problem, relations between the majority and minority in the Senate of the newly convened 111th Congress are trying.  Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has dramatized the problem by writing a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Excerpts follow:
The Senate has the Constitutional duty to provide its Advice and Consent on Presidential nominations, a duty which we take seriously…

Therefore, prior to considering any time agreements on the [Senate Floor] on any nominee, we expect the following standards will be met:
  • The FBI background check is complete and submitted to the [Senate committee with jurisdiction] in time for review and prior to [the notice of hearing].
  • The Office of Government Ethics letter is complete and submitted in time. 
  • Financial disclosure statements (and tax returns . . .) are complete [and timely submitted].
  • All committee questionnaires are complete [and timely submitted].
  • The nominee is willing to have committee staff interviews, where that has been the practice.
  • The nominee has had a hearing.
  • The nominee agrees to courtesy visits with [Senators] when requested.
  • The nominee has committed to cooperate with the Ranking Member [of the jurisdictional Senate committee] on requests for information and transparency.
The letter explicitly does not apply to federal judicial nominees, as to whom there would be additional, traditional requirements. The letter prudently speaks within the context of Senatorial procedures.

The sum and substance of the need is uncomplicated.  Basically a nominee should be willing to timely present adequately authenticated and complete data for not less than a reasonable number of years as to tax returns; sources and sums of income; and as to sources and sums of fringe benefits, reimbursements, gifts and the like – to the nominee himself or herself and to every family member deriving any of the foregoing directly or indirectly through the nominee’s activities.

We all understand that a qualified individual does not accept federal appointment to increase his or her legitimate income.  Top-level federal employment does not pay competitively. Such a federal appointment not infrequently can lead to major income-earnings success in years following the tenure. Assuming no on-the-job misconduct that consequence or partial consequence is legitimate. However, deception or nondisclosure as to material facts to induce a presidential nomination and/or to facilitate Senatorial confirmation is utterly unacceptable.  It is most unfortunate that a distinguished and competent U.S. Senator finds it necessary to write the kind of letter Senator McConnell has written.

Marion Edwyn Harrison is President of, and Counsel to, the Free Congress Foundation.

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