Staffing the Executive Office: Presidential Appointees & the Appointing Process

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  • 0:02 Presidential Appointments
  • 2:13 Appointments Process
  • 3:49 Failed Nominations
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley has a JD degree and is an attorney. She has extensive experience as a prosecutor and legal writer, and she has taught and written various law courses.

The United States president appoints, or selects, people to serve in many different positions in the federal government. This lesson identifies the various positions appointed by the president and explains the appointment process.

Presidential Appointments

Did you know that there are nearly 4,000 politically appointed positions in our federal government? This includes people serving in the executive branch, the military, and the judicial branch. The positions are known as presidential appointments because the president selects people to serve in various federal government positions.

Presidential appointments include all U.S. ambassadors, all Cabinet positions, all U.S. Supreme Court justices, and all federal judge positions. These are known as PAS positions, meaning presidential appointments with Senate confirmation. The president nominates a candidate, but the Senate must approve the nomination. For example, President Barack Obama formally nominated Maria Contreras-Sweet as the new administrator of the Small Business Administration in a White House ceremony held in January of 2014. The Senate confirmed Contreras-Sweet in March of 2014.

Other presidential appointments include people who serve on various commissions, councils, committees, boards, or foundations. These are mostly advisory positions and are sometimes without pay. These are known as PAs, or presidential appointments without Senate confirmation. Many people working in the executive office of the president are PSs, like the president's secretary and other administrative support staff.

The people who work in the president's personal residence are also PSs, as are all of the vice president's staff. For example, Rahm Emanuel served in the Obama administration as White House Chief of Staff. He was appointed in November of 2008 directly by President Obama and served through 2010. This position doesn't require Senate approval.

Appointments Process

Let's take a look at how the appointments process works. The U.S. Constitution's Article II provides the president with appointment power. The particular section is known as the Appointments Clause and gives the executive branch the exclusive power to select certain federal officials. Additionally, the Appointments Clause sets out the process by which the president may make appointments.

Let's examine the general process for those appointments that require Senate confirmation. First, the president alone has the authority to nominate a candidate of his or her choosing. Next, the Senate must approve the nomination by advice and consent.

Prior to voting, the Senate may hold hearings to better familiarize themselves with the nominee and his or her background and experience. Sometimes a presidential appointments committee researches and meets with the nominee and then reports to the Senate. Lastly, if the Senate approves, the president formally appoints and commissions the appointee. This is usually done in some sort of ceremony, though the size and formality vary. If the appointment doesn't require Senate confirmation, then that step is simply eliminated. The president can nominate an appointee and proceed directly to commissioning the appointee.

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