Deconstruction Through Neglect: Presidential Priorities and Agency Management

Dr. David Lewis

Every American president is concerned with bureaucratic responsiveness. The primary way that presidents influence administrative policymaking is through the selection of political appointees to fill top executive branch positions. After a presidential election in the United States, new presidents must fill the more than 1,100 positions that require presidential nomination and Senate confirmation. Unfortunately, we know very little systematically about how presidents determine which positions to fill in what order. This is important since about 15 percent of appointed positions were still vacant after 18 month during the Obama Administration and the proportion is higher in the Trump Administration. If the same positions are persistently neglected across presidencies, this has consequences for policy, politics, management and the health of these agencies. In this paper I use new data on all Senate-confirmed appointee positions in 2000, 2008, and 2016 to evaluate the positions that presidents prioritized filling at the start of new administrations. I conclude with implications for the health of the administrative state and other presidential systems.