Control Without Confirmation: The Politics of Vacancies in Presidential Appointments
AbstractAll presidential administrations experience vacancies in agency leadership. Separation of powers models typically assume that executives are constrained by the need for legislative approval when placing these agents in unelected office. Yet, in practice, these vital policymaking positions are often filled with temporary officials -- or left empty entirely -- without Senate confirmation. These unexpected outcomes raise the important question of why presidents choose to leave certain positions vacant while seeking the Senate's advice and consent for others. Even though much has been written on the president's strategies for choosing appointees in light of their potential for Senate confirmation, the president's use of vacancies is almost completely absent from the literature on presidential appointments. This absence is striking since presidents have perpetuated vacancies in their appointments, without submitting nominations, for decades. In this dissertation, I argue that vacancies in appointments that require Senate confirmation are calculated choices presidents make, within their larger nomination strategies, to advance their policy priorities. To do so, I develop and test a novel theory of appointments that corrects our conception of vacancies to differentiate between empty positions and interim appointees, while also incorporating the Senate's leverage to veto a nomination and the president's power to choose not to submit one in the first place. Two key findings predict that, first, when presidents prioritize policy contraction, persistently empty positions without nominees will occur even in unified government; and second, when presidents prioritize policy expansion, they are more likely to use interim appointees to fill positions with a high capacity to control policy outcomes. I assess these implications using an original dataset on vacancies and appointments, across all fifteen executive departments from 1977 through 2015; and find considerable support for my theory. The results here suggest that, indeed, presidents strategically use vacancies to expand their executive power and achieve their policy priorities. This dissertation makes three notable contributions to our understanding of presidential power by investigating how position characteristics and policy priorities influence the president's use of vacancies and appointments. First, it shows that to better understand institutions in separation-of-powers regimes, we must consider how deliberate sidestepping of formal powers impacts inter-branch bargaining and agenda setting strategies. Second, it presents a theory of appointments that provides a new and better understanding of presidential strategic behavior and the president's advantage in the nomination process. Moreover, it introduces the novel idea that these decisions are driven by the value of the positions themselves in terms of achieving policy priorities. Lastly, I have assembled the most comprehensive dataset to date on appointments to and vacancies in presidential appointments that require Senate confirmation. These data are new in political science research and will be helpful in exploring a new line of research on the politics of vacancies in presidential appointments. Executive politics scholars claim that the Senate's refusal to confirm appointments damages the president's ability to exercise his authority and execute the law. However, this dissertation discovers the conditions under which presidents, when they use empty posts and interim appointments, capitalize on their first-mover advantage to subvert the Senate's power to refuse confirmation.
Executive politicsInterim appointments to bureaucracySeparation of powersPresidential appointments
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