Why Does Trump Still Have So Many Vacancies to Fill?

What's Behind the Delay in Appointments

U.S. President Donald Trump departs past the empty seats of Democratic members of Congress in Washington, February 2017. Carlos Barria / REUTERS

U.S. President Donald Trump has recently made headlines for the many government jobs he has left unfilled. As of April 25, the U.S. Senate had confirmed only 26 of Trump’s executive branch appointments. Of the remaining 1,028 positions that require Senate approval (also known as PAS positions), a mere 37 nominations were awaiting a Senate vote, and 40 had been announced but not formally nominated. In terms of confirmations, Trump has fallen behind his most recent White House predecessors; at the hundred-day mark, Barack Obama had 69 confirmed; George W. Bush had 35; Bill Clinton, 49; and George H. W. Bush, 50.

Because of the expanding volume of appointments, increased vetting, and growing political polarization, the pace of presidential appointments has been slowing steadily for the past half century. From 1964 to 1984, 48 percent of presidential nominees were confirmed within two months. From 1984 to 1999, only 15 percent were confirmed within the same timespan. The average number of days to fill a position requiring presidential appointment and Senate confirmation in the Ronald Reagan administration was 194 days, and the average in the George W. Bush administration was 242 days.

Trump has already complained about the slow pace. “You can’t do it faster, because they’re obstructing,” he said on Fox News. “They’re obstructionists.” Despite his implications that opposition Democrats in the Senate have been thwarting his efforts to fill essential positions in his administration, the fact is that he has made only 46 nominations for the more than 500 top positions, fewer than his most recent predecessors. As in other administrations, the White House nomination process, not the Senate, has been the fundamental cause of the delay. There are several factors that can explain the delay, some generic to all administrations, but some unique to Trump.


The Trump transition was slow to get under way, in part because few in the Trump camp expected to win the election. Prior to the election, any resources that went to transition preparation came at the expense of the campaign. Most transition

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