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Congress

Lawmaker aims to crack down on reliance on acting officials

Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) is looking to crack down on the Trump administration's reliance on acting officials by modifying the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

The Accountability for Acting Officials Act, introduced by Porter on May 5, would limit officials to serving for no more than 120 days from the time an agency position vacated and require such acting officials to testify before relevant congressional oversight committees at least every two months.

The Federal Vacancies Reform Act currently allows acting officials to serve for 210 days and also permits changes of job titles that can leave unconfirmed acting officials in charge of large departments and programs for even longer than that.

Under Porter's bill, acting inspectors general would be required to have "relevant experience and qualifications."

Officials appointed on an acting basis would have to have served within that agency for at least a year before their predecessor stepped down.

"President Trump has shown time and again that he doesn't believe in the accountability that comes from our constitutionally required nomination process," Porter said in a statement announcing the bill. "Instead, he's consistently filled his administration with loyal, often unqualified followers -- and the American people have to live with the consequences."

Oversight Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) are co-sponsoring the bill.

The Trump administration has been plagued with vacancies at agencies such as the Department of the Interior, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Trump has said that he likes acting officials because they give him "more flexibility."

The administration has appointed a number of officials to serve in executive positions on an acting basis for extensive stretches of time. DHS, which has played a frontline role in the government’s response to COVID-19, has not had a Senate-confirmed secretary since Kirstjen Nielsen resigned in April 2019.

In March, the D.C. District Court ruled that one such appointment violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. DHS is now appealing the court’s decision, which found that Ken Cuccinelli’s appointment to serve as the agency's acting deputy secretary and principal deputy director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was illegal.

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