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Democrats Pushed Legislation to Restrict Trump’s Use of ‘Acting’ Agency Heads — What It Means


House Democrats recently introduced legislation aimed at restricting President Donald Trump’s widespread use of “acting” agency heads, saying his unprecedented practice of obviating the Senate confirmation process has damaged the federal government’s efficiency and accountability.

The legislation has garnered some attention over the last few days, in no small part, because President Trump has repeatedly shown he “like[s] acting.” While acting officials are currently permitted to retain roles for up to 210 days, under the Accountability for Acting Officials Act, introduced over a week ago by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), that time would be cut nearly in half, to 120 days. The bill would also mandate stricter qualification requirements for acting appointees, and ensure that they report to Congress at least once every 60 days.

This is notable at a time when it is being reported that acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, a person known to be loyal to the president but with “no intelligence experience,” declassified names of Obama administration officials who “unmasked” retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn. This appears to be part of an administration-wide effort to discredit the Flynn case and the origins of the Russia probe.

The new legislation, for example, would require any acting inspector general to have “relevant experience and qualifications” before being permitted to take on the role.

“The current crisis highlights how important it is that government leaders are qualified and answer to the American people,” Congresswoman Porter said in a statement accompanying the bill. “President Trump has shown time and again that he doesn’t believe in the accountability that comes from our constitutionally required nomination process. Instead, he’s consistently filled his administration with loyal, often unqualified followers—and the American people have to live with the consequences.”

Trump is the only president since Ronald Reagan whose administration has been filled with more acting than Senate-confirmed secretaries, a fact he’s proudly championed in the past.

“I like acting. It gives me more flexibility. Do you understand that? I like acting. So we have a few that are acting. We have a great, great Cabinet,” he said, reiterating the sentiment on several occasions last year.

However, that flexibility has also left an historic number of key administration positions either vacant or in a state of perpetual flux.

Porter specifically called out the administration for failing to provide the Department of Homeland Security, a key agency in the fight against the pandemic, with a proper leader for more than a year after Kirstjen Nielsen’s departure. Chad Wolf assumed the acting role six months ago, taking over for Kevin McAleenan who served in the same role for five months.

“The fact that we still don’t have a Senate-confirmed permanent secretary there, after a year, means that leadership over a key agency is fragmented,” Porter said. “The Acting Secretary hasn’t been approved by the Senate, and the normal safeguards against an unqualified candidate haven’t been met.”

Read the full legislation below.

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[image via [Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.