Rep. Porter, Joined by House Committee Chairs, Introduces Bill to Crack Down on Unconfirmed Agency Officials

May 1, 2020
Press Release
Congresswoman’s legislation comes as “acting” officials lead Department of Homeland Security and other agencies overseeing COVID-19 pandemic response

WASHINGTON—Congresswoman Katie Porter (CA-45) today introduced legislation to increase accountability for federal agency heads and other officials that have not been vetted by the Senate. Her Accountability for Acting Officials Act would limit who can serve as an “acting” official and for how long, closing various loopholes in the current law.  The bill would also ramp up transparency and reporting by acting officials. 

“The current crisis highlights how important it is that government leaders are qualified and answer to the American people,” Congresswoman Porter said. “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.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, acting officials have been in charge at key agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA. Last summer, the Administration had over a dozen unconfirmed acting officials leading an executive agency.  The Administration has also recently removed highly qualified individuals from Inspector General roles, threatening to politicize these offices that the law requires be independent.

Porter’s Accountability for Acting Officials Act would:

  • Limit acting agency heads to serving a maximum of 120 days from the date of the vacancy;
  • Require acting officials testify before Congress at least once every 60 days;
  • Require acting Inspectors General to have relevant experience and qualifications; and
  • Close other loopholes that allow the President to appoint acting officials without experience in the agencies they lead.

Committee leadership overseeing agencies that have been run by acting officials joined the Congresswoman in sponsoring the legislation, including Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, Chairman Adam Smith, Chairman Raul Grijalva, Chairman Jerrold Nadler, Chairman Gerald E. Connolly, Chairman Adam Schiff, and Chairman Mark Takano.

“The administration’s longstanding failure to fill critical vacancies across the federal government—including vacancies that go back several years—has deprived agencies of stable, vetted leadership and aggravated the current pandemic crisis,” Oversight Committee Chairwoman Maloney said.  “This bill would institute critical reforms to require stability, expertise, and accountability when it is necessary for an administration to fill a vacancy temporarily.  I commend Congresswoman Porter for her work and look forward to moving this important legislation through the Committee on Oversight and Reform.”

“This bill closes loopholes in the law that President Trump has exploited to run his government with unqualified acting officials beholden to him. Currently, nine of the Department of Homeland Security’s most senior positions are held by acting officials.  While the country faces a nationwide crisis, the Federal government – and especially DHS – need steady and capable leadership now more than ever,” said Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson.

“The President has repeatedly said that he likes ‘acting’ officials because they give him more flexibility.  In fact, they allow him to avoid accountability and install chosen – and often unqualified – political operatives,” said Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff.  “There is nothing like congressional oversight and confirmation hearings to hold officials’ feet to the fire, and Congress must insist on important reforms in light of how Trump has abused the process.  As this crisis has underscored with a deadly urgency, our country needs people in critical posts who are qualified, who respect the role of congressional oversight, and who answer to the American people first.”

Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva explained, “This administration has repeatedly installed unconfirmable political appointees to push through favors to the fossil fuel industry and other political allies. Checks on this abuse are long overdue.”

“It is important, especially in times of crisis, that our federal agencies and departments are led by qualified and experienced individuals,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler. “The President should not be able to circumvent the constitutional processes intended to fill these vacancies in the pursuit of personal interests. This bill is another key step in restoring confidence in the leadership of the federal government.” 

“The current pandemic has emphasized how critical it is to have steady, permanent leadership at the helm of our agencies—VA is no different. That’s why I’m proud to support Rep. Porter’s Accountability for Acting Officials Act to ensure that we have real accountability and transparency in our leaders—especially in times of crisis—so we can continue to best serve our veterans,” said Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano.

Congresswoman Porter’s legislation also earned the support of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), Protect Democracy, Demand Progress, Niskanen Center, Open the Government, Public Citizen, American Oversight, Professor Anne Joseph O’Connell (Stanford), Union of Concerned Scientists, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Professor David Lewis (Vanderbilt), Democracy Fund Voice, and Brennan Center for Justice.

"POGO thanks Congresswoman Porter for her leadership in closing critical loopholes that have allowed this and past presidents to unconstitutionally circumvent the Senate's Advice and Consent prerogative. Persistent acting leadership forces taxpayers to settle for an unqualified, unaccountable, and unprepared federal government. Importantly, this bill takes necessary steps to secure the timely nomination of qualified inspectors general and ensures that acting inspectors general are qualified. We urge swift, bipartisan support for this timely initiative,” said Rebecca Jones of POGO.

Justin Vail of Protect Democracy explained, "The COVID-19 pandemic has shown why it is so important to have qualified officials in our government’s top jobs, and yet many roles critical to pandemic response are currently filled by temporary “acting” personnel who have essentially skipped their job interview with the Senate. Congresswoman Porter's Accountability For Acting Officials Act would help restore functional leadership to federal agencies; it would discourage the president from bypassing the constitutionally mandated confirmation process while preserving the president’s ability to temporarily fill vacant positions with qualified individuals. Presidents of both parties have increasingly exploited loopholes or violated the current vacancies law. It’s time for Congress to act on a bipartisan basis to put an end to this abuse of power."

Congresswoman Porter has prioritized transparency with her constituents and holding the Trump Administration accountable. To date, she’s hosted 15 public townhalls and public forums in Orange County. Last year, Porter called on Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to explain his agency’s shortcomings in preventing foreclosure in a hearing in which Carson confused a real estate term for a cookie. She also exposed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Kathy Kraninger for her unfamiliarity with the basics of consumer lending.

116th Congress