A new president appoints a number of individuals to serve as part of their cabinet, but most of these positions require Senate confirmation. However, it looks like the Senate often holds these confirmation votes some time after a president's inauguration.

For instance, Barack Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009. However, his cabinet appointments were not confirmed until days or even months afterwards:

  • January 21: Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State
  • January 26: Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury
  • February 2: Eric Holder, Attorney General
  • February 24: Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor
  • March 18: Ron Kirk, Trade Representative
  • April 28: Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services

How does the work assigned to these cabinet positions get done while appointments are awaiting Senate confirmation?

1 Answer 1


Acting Secretaries

In-between appointees, the work of the Secretary is done by an Acting Secretary. The incoming administration can designate Acting Secretaries with some restrictions set by the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. Deputies ("First Assistants", in the Act's language) are by default the acting Secretary unless some conditions are met.

If the Deputy is nominated to become the new Secretary, then they are ineligible and someone else must fill the role. This could be a high-level employee of the Department or perhaps another appointee.

In one of your examples, prior to Hillary Clinton's confirmation the Acting Secretary of State was William Burns, previously the Deputy Secretary of State under the previous administration.

  • That is correct. Although most (if not all) cabinet level departments have a line of succession, in case multiple high-level staff are fired at the same time. Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 17:27
  • @Thunderforge - Edited in this information. Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 17:35

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