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Former Government Post Nominee Says Nominees Are 'Pawns' In Partisan Fight


Much of the news this week was about Senate confirmation hearings for nominees to President-elect Trump's administration. But there are also more than 1,000 other federal jobs that require Senate approval, Supreme Court justices, marine mammal commissioner, board members and trustees for various government funds, trusts and agencies.

Doug Wilson is in our studios. He is chairman of the board of advisors for the Truman National Security Project. And his story might give us some insight into ways the confirmation process is broken down. Mr. Wilson, thanks so much for joining us.

DOUG WILSON: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: You were nominated in 2013 for a government post, right?

WILSON: I was. Previously, I'd been nominated to be assistant secretary of defense for public affairs...

SIMON: In 2008, yeah.

WILSON: ...In 2008. And so this was a second one. I left the Pentagon, finished my work there in 2012.

SIMON: Now, that's three, four years ago. What happened?

WILSON: I was asked if I was interested in being part of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. This is a small commission, six people, three Democrats, three Republicans by statute. It's an unpaid position. It's slotted for a Democrat. And I'm a Democrat. And I had already been confirmed only a few years earlier. So I said, yes, I'd be interested. And I thought that I had both the qualifications and the experience to be able to contribute.

SIMON: Can you give us for instances of what struck you as unnecessary or even dotty?

WILSON: The first thing that struck me is as a little dotty was the fact that I had gone through this process at great length for a position that was much larger only a few years earlier. That was a relatively simpler process in part, I believe, because the administration and the legislative branch, the Senate, were controlled by the same party. So I went through fairly quickly.

This time it was different. And in the interim, what had happened was an increasingly partisan bitterness between a Democratic administration and a Republican-led Senate. Those of us who thought we were going to be participants in government, in fact, were becoming pawns of the process.

SIMON: What you're charging is that Republicans in Congress held up not just your nomination but the nomination of a lot of other people.

WILSON: They did. But I will also say that, to get to that point, it took an extraordinarily long time with some very odd things being asked as my paperwork was going through. People I had known in various places I'd lived were asked again to do - to sit for interviews. A friend of mine in California called me after she'd been interviewed and said, it's really funny. They asked me all about your being a Democrat. And the interviewer said, I don't really like Democrats.

I'll also say I used to work for former Senator Gary Hart. I was his foreign policy adviser. Hart has been out of the Senate for 30 years. But the interviewer asked my D.C. friend, when Mr. Wilson is done with this position, will he be returning to work for Senator Hart?

SIMON: (Laughter).

WILSON: You start to wonder the kinds of questions that are being asked. By the time my paperwork got to the White House for final vetting, it had been well over a year since I had been asked to serve.

SIMON: So here we are now in 2017. And, interestingly, the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics warns that the Senate confirmation process - this is for Mr. Trump's cabinet nominees - is going too quickly.

WILSON: It's not a zero-sum choice. People need to be vetted. But there is a difference between being secretary of state or secretary of the Treasury and being in an unpaid position. The idea that it would take over a year for a small position like this to be completely vetted to me is an obstacle - a big obstacle - to public service.

SIMON: Doug Wilson, chairman of the board of advisors for the Truman National Security Project, thanks so much for being with us.

WILSON: Thank you.

SIMON: And good luck in your future endeavors.

WILSON: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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