Biden's budget vacancy raises eyebrows

It’s been six months since President BidenJoe BidenBriahna Joy Gray: White House thinks extending student loan pause is a 'bad look' Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Former New York state Senate candidate charged in riot MORE took office, and one Cabinet position remains vacant: director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Biden’s first choice for the job, Neera TandenNeera TandenThe Hill's Morning Report - Will Schumer back down on his deadline? Biden's budget vacancy raises eyebrows White House releases staff salaries showing narrowed gender pay gap MORE, withdrew from consideration in early March as her path to confirmation seemed to hit a dead end. He has yet to put forward another nominee for the role as the agency gears up to work with congressional Democrats on a sprawling multitrillion-dollar reconciliation bill.

Shalanda Young was confirmed months ago as deputy director of OMB and is serving as the acting director in absence of a Senate-confirmed leader. Young is well-liked on Capitol Hill and within the administration, was confirmed by the Senate as deputy director by a strong 63-37 margin and is seen as a natural choice for full-time director.

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A White House spokesperson said Monday there was no update on the timeline for when Biden might put forward an OMB nominee.

One Democratic strategist close to the White House said the administration is clearly comfortable with the deputies they have appointed across the government and confident in their ability to carry out the director’s responsibilities.

But the OMB stands out as a massive agency that oversees trillions of dollars in budget proposals and numerous federal employees, and it is the lone Cabinet-level agency without a Senate-confirmed leader this far into the Biden administration. 

“It’s an embarrassment to the president and his team not to have a confirmed full-time OMB director almost seven months into this administration,” said Bill Hoagland, a senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center who spent more than 30 years in various federal budget and management roles.

Biden has already put out a budget proposal for fiscal 2022, but the OMB will be central in negotiations over a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that congressional Democrats hope to pass in the coming weeks with funding for health care, education programs, family care and climate initiatives. The office will also need to begin preliminary work on Biden’s fiscal 2023 budget request within months.

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Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a senior fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, called it “highly unusual” for the OMB job to remain unfilled this far into the administration. She noted the Senate has been slower than past administrations in confirming Biden’s nominees, but in the case of OMB the president has yet to put forward another pick since withdrawing Tanden.

“Even if you have a deputy or even if they’re acting, there’s something that lacks kind of the power and the respect. Because right now, I’m guessing some of the OMB staff members are sort of wondering who’s going to be the director,” said Tenpas, who tracks federal appointments and confirmations across administrations.

Along with federal budgeting, the OMB also wields considerable power over regulatory actions taken by other departments. The office also plays a crucial role in coordinating the policy levers implementing the president’s agenda across the government, Hoagland said.

“That is really the heartbeat — to me — of the administration,” he said. “If you don't have that central complex there at OMB then the ability to carry out the president's agenda is seriously undermined.”

Biden saw each of his first choices for Cabinet roles confirmed outside of Tanden, and he is following an administration that relied heavily on acting officials for long stretches of time. Russ Vought served as the acting director for roughly a year before then-President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt MORE finally nominated him for the full-time job, and the Senate confirmed him a few months later. 

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Young is widely considered the favorite to be full-time director of the OMB when the dust settles and has ample time left as acting chief before Biden faces a hard deadline to make a nomination.

Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Young may be able to serve as acting chief until late October — 210 days after Biden withdrew Tanden’s nomination on March 25 — before the president must nominate a full-time OMB chief. And once Biden nominates his pick for OMB director, Young can remain as acting chief until that nominee is either confirmed or withdrawn.

While Biden is likely to nominate Young in the end, Hoagland said the president should make it official as soon as possible and allow a new deputy director to fill out the top of the agency.

“She's having to do both jobs, not to say that she can't, but she's got to be stretched pretty hard on this,” he said. 

“If they don't have any other candidates out there that are willing to come forward, I think they should not let grass grow under their feet and move to finalize what she’s been doing anyway.”

But another consideration that could be holding up the pick is the desire among some Democrats and those close to the administration to see an Asian American nominated to head up the agency.

Tanden was Biden’s lone Asian American nominee to lead a Cabinet-level agency, and her withdrawal led to calls from Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for the president to choose another member of their community for the job.

Administration officials have pointed to Julie Su, Biden’s choice for deputy secretary of Labor, and Katherine TaiKatherine TaiBiden's trade agenda is off to a rocky start Pence v. Biden on China: Competing but consistent visions Biden's budget vacancy raises eyebrows MORE, his trade representative, as prominent Asian Americans in the administration, and Vice President Harris is Indian American.