20 Years After 9/11, Top National Security Posts Sit Empty

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Two decades aft the Sept. 11 attacks, determination are again dozens of unfilled Senate-confirmed nationalist information positions.

White House officials said connected  Friday that clearing the logjam of confirmations was captious  to nationalist  information    and the nation’s overseas   argumentation  and urged the Senate to determination   forward.
Credit...Tom Brenner for The New York Times

Elizabeth Williamson

Sept. 10, 2021, 5:36 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — Before the Sept. 11, 2001, violent attacks, astir fractional of the national government’s Senate-confirmed apical nationalist information jobs sat empty, making the United States much vulnerable, the 9/11 Commission found. Two decades later, the concern — by astatine slightest 1 measurement — is worse.

Only 26 percent of President Biden’s choices for captious Senate-confirmed nationalist information posts person been filled, according to a caller investigation by the Partnership for Public Service, which immunodeficiency statesmanlike transitions and tracks appointments. Immediately earlier the 2001 attacks, 57 percent of cardinal nationalist information positions were occupied.

“What appalled the 9/11 Commission has gotten dramatically worse,” said Max Stier, the organization’s main executive. “The Senate confirmation strategy is not working. It’s designed for an epoch of simplicity and bipartisan cooperation, which we don’t have.”

Empty seats dot the national government’s apical tier. Of 1,200 Senate-confirmed jobs crossed the authorities tracked by the group, 144 of 442 nominations submitted had been filled by the August legislature recess.

Within those 1,200 Senate-confirmed positions are 170 nationalist security-related posts successful the departments of Homeland Security, Defense, State, and Justice. Of those, lone 44, oregon 26 percent, person been filled.

To beryllium sure, the beingness of security-related positions is acold much expansive than it was successful 2001, erstwhile determination was nary Department of Homeland Security and fewer officials were focused connected cybersecurity oregon infrastructure security. There person been different changes successful the 20 years since, including a web of counterterrorism centers crossed the state and large advances successful exertion that let the quality agencies to way terrorists astir the globe successful existent time.

The Partnership investigation looked lone astatine Senate-confirmed positions, which relationship for a tiny fraction of cardinal nationalist information jobs. More than 70,000 positions successful the quality agencies and much than 200,000 successful the Department of Homeland Security, for example, are not taxable to confirmation.

But White House officials said connected Friday that clearing the logjam was captious to nationalist information and the nation’s overseas argumentation and urged the Senate to determination forward.

To bounds the nation’s vulnerability during the play betwixt outgoing and incoming administrations, the 9/11 Commission sought to velocity the transition, successful portion by recommending that a president-elect nominate a afloat slate of nationalist information leaders nary aboriginal than Inauguration Day.

Not lone has that not happened, Senate logjams and partisan battles implicit nominees person gotten worse. It present takes astir 4 months for a statesmanlike nominee to beryllium confirmed, compared with fractional that clip successful the Reagan era. More than 200 Biden nominees are languishing successful “confirmation purgatory,” immoderate of them for months, Mr. Stier said.

The problems started successful January, when, amid a surge successful home terrorism, Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, slowed confirmation of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, saying helium had questions astir his stance connected immigration. At the time, Michael Chertoff, a homeland information caput during the George W. Bush administration, called the slow-walking “irresponsible and unconscionable,” saying it could “put the lives of Americans successful jeopardy.”

This spring, Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, slowed the confirmation of 3 Department of Homeland Security nominees — the lawman secretary, the nether caput for strategy, argumentation and plans and the wide counsel — seeking greater medication attraction connected the U.S. borderline with Mexico. The lawman secretary, John K. Tien, has been connected the occupation for little than 2 months, and Robert Silvers, the nether caput for strategy, for little than a month.

In August, the Senate near for its monthlong summertime interruption with nearly 30 State Department nominees successful limbo. Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, is blocking their confirmation votes portion demanding that Mr. Biden enforce sanctions connected the Nord Stream 2 earthy state pipeline linking Russia and Germany. Among the nominees that Mr. Cruz has bottled up is Brett M. Holmgren, who was nominated successful March arsenic adjunct caput of authorities for quality and research.

But it is not lone Republicans slowing the process.

Democrats grouse that wide members of their enactment balk astatine nominees with firm backgrounds, making acceptable appointees harder to find. Moderate Democrats person besides raised objections astir immoderate nominees.

On Thursday, Mr. Biden withdrew his information of David Chipman to pb the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives aft Senator Angus King, a Maine autarkic who caucuses with the Democrats, and Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, joined Republicans successful objecting to Mr. Chipman’s past statements supporting immoderate weapon control.

Jamie S. Gorelick, who served connected the 9/11 Commission, called the Senate’s attack “lackadaisical” and “dangerous.” During the Clinton administration, Ms. Gorelick was the Pentagon’s wide counsel, and aboriginal the lawman lawyer general. Then too, “it was hand-to-hand combat getting idiosyncratic adjunct secretaries and the similar confirmed,” she said.

“I was not amazed that by September of 2001 we had a akin situation, and I’m not amazed now.”

The Biden administration, however, took bureau with astir a afloat National Security Council unit — cardinal posts successful the White House — which was a immense betterment implicit the Trump administration.

But Mr. Biden has been precocious connected immoderate Senate-confirmed nationalist information picks. He nominated Celeste Wallander to beryllium adjunct caput of defence for planetary information affairs successful precocious June, and past period helium named Melissa Dalton to beryllium adjunct caput of defence for homeland information and planetary information affairs. Both picks inactive await confirmation.

At the Homeland Security Department, Mr. Biden has not yet nominated anyone for nether caput for quality and investigation oregon for nether caput for subject and technology.

In September 2001, the 2000 predetermination recount conflict had slowed the statesmanlike transition, and bitter partisan fights implicit immoderate nominees delayed filling the government.

Mr. Chertoff, who was starring the Department of Justice’s transgression part connected Sept. 11 and would aboriginal go homeland information secretary, recalled officials doing “double and triple duty” to screen the vacancies.

After the attacks, “the wide consciousness we got, and it was reaffirmed by the 9/11 Commission, is that it is simply a information hazard not to person the process spell close away,” Mr. Chertoff said successful November. “Our enemies don’t hold until we’ve had a twelvemonth to settee in.”

Currently much than fractional of the 17 apical Senate-confirmed jobs astatine the Department of Homeland Security stay vacant. The section was abysmally understaffed during the Trump administration, complicating the pandemic response. Some apical jobs person sat vacant for years due to the fact that Mr. Trump failed to name anyone.

“The lack of confirmed positions has made it precise hard for the bureau to transportation retired its mission,” Mr. Chertoff said.

Government watchdogs person for years recommended trimming the fig of positions taxable to Senate confirmation. The Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011 converted 163 Senate-confirmed positions to nonstop statesmanlike appointments. But the numbers person been creeping upward since, from 1,212 successful 2012 to 1,237 successful 2016.

Elsewhere successful the government, according to the Partnership for Public Service’s appointments tracker, an array of different nerve-center agencies relation with acting leaders, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Communications Commission and the Office of Management and Budget.

“Every section has immoderate important missing individuals,” Mr. Stier said. “There’s nary bureau wherever you could accidental ‘we’re each good and good.’”

Eileen Sullivan, David E. Sanger, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Alan Rappeport and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

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