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Appointing and Removing Agency Personnel

5. How are key agency personnel appointed and removed?

In both executive and independent administrative agencies, the President has the authority to nominate the governing personnel (directors, secretaries, boards, commissioners, etc.) for appointment and to remove those individuals.

Appointment of Administrative Agency Officials

Following nomination for appointment by the President, the Senate must vote to confirm the nominee. Congress cannot take part in the appointment process outside of providing advice about the nomination during the confirmation hearing. To keep the key personnel somewhat independent of the President, the individuals generally serve staggered terms that are longer than the President’s 4-year term. This prevents the sitting President from appointing all of the leadership of an agency at one time. Further, federal statutes often require that the governing board or commission of independent agencies be bipartisan, with a certain number of individuals coming from outside of the President’s political party.

Removal of Administrative Agency Officials

The President generally has the authority to remove key leaders from administrative agencies. While the President’s authority to remove individuals from executive agencies is unlimited, there may be any number of limitations on the ability to remove members of independent agencies. For instance, Congress may pass a statute limiting this authority. These statutes normally require proof of incapacity, neglect of duty, malfeasance, or good cause before the President can remove an official. This is particularly true if the agency primarily serves a regulatory function. Congress may also reserve the ability to vote to remove an independent administrative official. This authority is limited by the function of the agency. If the independent agency exercises any executive powers, such as enforcement or statutes, Congress cannot take part in removing the agent. If Congress wants to remove an agency official acting in an executive capacity (any of the heads of executive agencies), it must initiate impeachment proceedings.

•    Discussion: What do you think about the requirement for bipartisan representation on administrative boards? Do you agree with the broad authority of the President to remove members of executive agencies? Do you think Congress should have greater authority in this regard? Conversely, do you think statutes limiting the President’s removal authority are excessive?

•    Practice Question: David is an executive member of a federal administrative agency. He was nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. What information about the agency and David’s position is required to determine the process or procedure for removing David from his position?

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