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The Power of Appointment

  • President has power to appoint key officials in all executive departments and agencies
  • US Senate must confirm presidential appointments
Perhaps the biggest way that the president influences the departments and agencies of the executive branch is through his appointment powers. The president has the authority to fill the most critical positions within executive departments and agencies with the people he thinks will best implement his agenda. But this authority is not absolute; the Senate is authorized to confirm these appointments. And the vast majority of the entry-level positions within these departments and agencies are filled through civil service processes rather than appointment. That means that an applicant has to take the civil service exam, and the posts must be filled based on the applicant's performance on that exam. Deep into the nineteenth century, even these low-level jobs were filled through executive appointment—a system that encouraged corruption and graft as politicians traded jobs for favors. But the assassination of President James Garfield by a deranged office-seeker finally convinced Congress to pass the Pendleton Act in 1883, creating the Civil Service Commission to remove most federal jobs from direct control by the president.

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