A Presidential Transition Reform Drafted by NYU Wagner Prof. Paul Light Looms Over Federal Agencies

The Federal Vacancies Reform Act is hardly famous around Washington. But it is destined to start making a major impact soon on many executive branch departments and agencies that have temporary or acting officials filling vacancies that require presidential appointment with Senate confirmation.

The principal drafter of the 1998 law was Paul Light, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at NYU Wagner. Professor Light was asked to draw up the bill by Senator John Glenn Jr. as part of a broader effort to improve the presidential transition process. Under the law, acting officials are allowed to serve 300 days, which comes Nov. 16 for those who started on Inauguration Day.

“The only way to stop the clock is to make a nomination to Congress,” explains Light. “If Congress rejects the nomination or the nominee withdraws, the clock starts again, but the nominee can’t be the person filling the acting position.”

It’s complicated, but the law will soon begin working its will on the Trump administration, which Light says has been “painfully slow to act and may soon find that the administration is neck-less—they’ve got Cabinet-level offices filled, but hundreds of lower-level posts are still empty.”

These unusual (though not unheard-of) circumstances could also make it easier for opponents of agencies’ regulations, or deregulation, to slow or halt their actions in court—a point that Light is quoted on in E&E News.

“You can tie up an administration forever by challenging illegal actions made by people who are performing the duties of an ‘acting’ without actually being appointed as such,” Light told the publication, which covers the environmental beat in DC. “I’m saying it’s very serious.”

Areas Of Impact