The Role of Public Records in the Political Nomination and Confirmation Process

In the coming weeks and months, individuals will be nominated by the Obama White House to serve in various federal agencies and judicial positions. Here we provide an overview of the federal nomination and confirmation process and the role that public records play in the success or failure of nominees. Questionnaire & Public Records

The first step that nominees go through in the appointment process is filling out an application with the incoming presidential administration, which probes for potential conflicts of interest and potentially embarrassing incidents in the nominee’s background. Here is a link to the questionnaire currently in use. Conflicts may be derived from sources of income, aspects of the individual’s personal and professional life (e.g., organizations to which the individual currently or once belonged), speeches the applicant may have given, as well as books, articles and editorials they have written. In addition to reviewing and analyzing all publications that reference the nominee, administration vetters will review all available public records that have been filed by or against the individual, including, but not limited to, legal, criminal, property, tax (i.e., liens) and business records. Also, when considering possible judicial appointees, administration vetters will analyze the opinions that the nominee has issued in an attempt to determine whether they can be characterized as “extreme” or “ideological”.

Background Checks & Financial Disclosure

If the White House is further interested in the applicant, they will be required to fill out FBI background check and financial disclosure forms for subsequent review and approval. Most appointees are required to file financial disclosure statements annually during their service.

Senate Confirmation

If the position for which the individual is being considered requires Senate confirmation, the Senate committee that reviews nominations for that position may ask the nominee to provide additional information. Each form includes waivers that grant permission for investigators to obtain medical and academic records, tax returns, and credit histories.

More Information & Case Studies

To learn more, click here to download the VR Research Guide to the Federal Nomination and Confirmation Process, which details how public records factor into the confirmation process and explores several case studies of nominees who experienced problems during their confirmation due to information gleaned from public records.