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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session


Posted: February 3, 2015 03:38 PM
From: Senator Kim L. Ward
To: All Senate members
Subject: Eliminate Cabinet Nominees from Serving as Secretaries prior to Senate Confirmation
I am introducing legislation to eliminate the ability of a gubernatorial cabinet nominee to serve as an acting secretary while awaiting Senate confirmation.

Current law prohibits a cabinet nominee from serving in that position or receiving any compensation for it until they have received confirmation by the Senate. Current and previous administrations have skirted this issue by naming nominees “acting” and thereby, enabling them to make decisions affecting the citizens of the Commonwealth without transparency on their qualifications and priorities as is provided for by the full Senate confirmation process.

The Administrative Code states:

“A person, other than one serving until a successor is appointed and qualified, nominated by the Governor to a position for which Senate confirmation is required by this section shall not serve in such position nor receive any compensation for serving in such position until he has been confirmed by action of the Senate or by its inaction as provided by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and his appointment or commission thereafter issued by the Governor: Provided, however, That nothing contained in this section shall be construed to repeal or modify section 213 of this act: And provided further, That nothing in this act shall affect the right of an incumbent, whose term of office has expired, to continue in his office until his successor is appointed and qualified.”

My legislation will stop the practice of naming cabinet nominees as “acting secretaries” and restore the honorable intent of the law by specifically prohibiting a cabinet nominee from serving in any capacity as a departmental head while awaiting Senate confirmation. As is provided for within current statute, the governor will designate a deputy secretary to serve as department head, with some limited powers, until there is a secretary. However, the designee will only serve temporarily while the nominee is awaiting confirmation and may not be the nominee named by the Governor.

Furthermore, our state Constitution requires the governor to name a nominee within 90 days of a vacancy. My bill will clearly stipulate within the Administrative Code a vacancy in a cabinet position occurs upon the commencement of a governor’s first term in office or immediately upon resignation of a department head.

As of today, the Senate has yet to receive any of the Governor’s cabinet nominees. Yet each one of them have been on the job for weeks - showing up to work, enacting policies, and hiring high-level staff – with the full authority and benefits of a Senate-confirmed departmental secretary without their qualifications being vetted by the Senate confirmation process. And they will continue to do so until they are confirmed or not confirmed by the Senate, regardless of what the law states because they have been enabled and empowered through the nuance the “acting” secretary title gives them.

I ask you to join me in co-sponsoring this effort. If you have any questions, please call Geri Sarfert, my legislative director, at 717-787-1640.

Introduced as SB587