Compounding Delays Inflict Deep Wounds
Newsletter 111: Rapid hiring will be key to delivering with belated appropriations
The federal government isn’t out from under the reign of Trump-era austerity yet and it looks like it won’t be for at least another month. Congressional appropriators have signaled that they will not have an omnibus spending deal in place by the time the current government funding agreement expires on February 18. They plan to enact a short-term funding agreement through March 11 to buy more time to reach a final deal.
It could be worse. Many, for example, have been worried that Congress would give up on the possibility of an omnibus altogether and extend Trump-era funding levels through the end of the fiscal year in September. But, after pushing back spending negotiations for months, even relatively short delays are costly. That is especially true given the limited time that remains before the midterms.
The compressed timeline will also make it all the more important that agencies are able to move quickly to translate new funding into results. Rapid hiring, in particular, will be key. Recently the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) took steps to expedite hiring for new positions related to implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Specifically, agencies will be able to rely on Schedule A hiring authority to fill these positions, allowing hiring managers to “bypass…steps that typically bog down federal hiring.” OPM must be prepared to do the same for the tens of thousands of positions for which agencies across the federal government will be hiring should an omnibus spending bill win approval.
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Chairwoman Jelena McWilliams officially stepped down from the board on Friday after her attempt to bluff her way to absolute control of the agency crumbled in December. By Monday, her interim successor, Acting Chair Martin Gruenberg, had released a new list of priorities, including “strengthen[ing] the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA),” “address[ing] financial risks posed by climate change,” “review[ing the] bank merger process,” and “evaluat[ing] crypto risks.” In other words, over a year after President Biden took office, the FDIC will finally be working to advance this administration’s priorities. And these don’t even encompass all of the FDIC’s potential actions in the public interest. Consumer advocates and Representative Maxine Waters have been quick to highlight the FDIC’s power to, for example, crack down on “rent-a-bank” schemes that allow lenders to evade state interest rate caps and charge predatory rates for loans.
This about-face at the FDIC is welcome news for the American people. It is also the latest illustration that, wherever he is able, Biden must remove and replace former Trump appointees. Although their numbers are dwindling, figures like Chris Wray, a handful of U.S. Attorneys, and Director of the Office of Financial Research Dino Falaschetti remain despite President Biden having the unambiguous legal right to fire them. This is not to mention the burrowed Trump appointees who appear largely to have escaped scrutiny.
Some in the administration seem to think that time will lead these scandals and their enduring impacts to simply fade away. On the contrary, the more distance we get from the Trump administration, the more the reasons for alarm seem to proliferate. Most recently, the Washington Post reported that President Trump regularly and indiscriminately destroyed records throughout his time in the Oval Office, in clear violation of the Presidential Records Act. The story describes aids piecing together torn up paper but it seems a great deal of information was successfully destroyed. From the story, “One senior Trump White House official said he and other White House staffers frequently put documents into ‘burn bags’ to be destroyed, rather than preserving them, and would decide themselves what should be saved and what should be burned.” The consequences for the historical record are bad enough. The broader implication, however – that there is still so much we don’t know about the Trump administration’s transgressions – is arguably even more troubling.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, for his part, appears unbothered by these revelations or those that have come before. We still have no indication that this Justice Department will move to hold President Trump accountable. In some cases, time is running out. This month will mark the end of the statute of limitations for some of Trump’s first alleged crimes carried out from the Oval Office.
The FDIC may finally be charging ahead with the Biden administration’s agenda, but the same cannot be said for several other independent agencies. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), among others, currently lack Democratic majorities thanks to a dysfunctional Senate confirmation process. Sadly, with Senator Ben Ray Luján out through the end of this month recovering from a stroke, the nominees will have to wait at least several more weeks to be confirmed. This episode should further underscore the urgency of confirmation process reforms. The current state of affairs doesn’t only slow confirmations as a routine matter, but ensures that accidents and unexpected events have ripple effects for confirmations across the executive branch.
Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton recently highlighted another set of victims of the overcrowded Senate floor. Local D.C. judges are subject to Senate confirmation, but without a Senator to advocate on their behalf and with confirmations generally in such a sorry state, the predictable result has been harmful delays. Norton has proposed legislation to remove the Senate confirmation requirement for these officials.
Crypto continues to mount its resistance to new regulation and it is pulling all of the usual D.C. levers to make it happen. POLITICO has a new piece on the cryptocurrency exchange FTX and its CEO Sam Bankman-Fried who is helping to lead the charge with major campaign contributions across the political aisle, heavy hiring from the revolving door, and posturing to welcome but entirely de-fang new standards. As my colleague Timi Iwayemi told POLITICO’s Sam Sutton, “They want to work with lawmakers, but the goal is to create legislation that would absolve them of any current violations of securities law.” So far, Biden’s regulators have appeared skeptical of these overtures, but continued vigilance is certainly necessary.
Want more? Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to in the last week: