As President Joe Biden begins his third year in office on Friday, the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division remains without a Senate-confirmed leader, despite the president's having put forward two nominees for the role.
Though the DOL's Wage and Hour Division has operated effectively without a Senate-confirmed leader under Biden, a confirmed head can accomplish more than a temporary one can, observers say. (Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty Images)
On the two-year anniversary of Biden's inauguration, the Wage and Hour Division administrator post remains vacant. As of Thursday evening, no nomination was pending, after the Senate blocked attempts to vote on two nominees, David Weil and Jessica Looman, and returned the Looman nomination when its session ended in early January.
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Confirmed Officials Have 'Gravitas'
The Wage and Hour Division, which dates to 1938, has often operated without a Senate-confirmed leader, and there have been just three in the past 21 years. Legal and political observers and agency veterans attribute that to strong opposition either from worker advocates or the business community, depending on the president's party.
Having to function without someone who's made it through the Senate process has "become the norm," said D. Michael Hancock, a former assistant administrator for the Wage and Hour Division under Obama.
"Whether it's Republican or Democrat in the White House, the Senate is reluctant for a variety of reasons, largely policy-based, I think, to confirm an administrator," said Hancock, who is now of counsel at worker-side firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC.
Though the agency can function day to day without a Senate-confirmed administrator, someone lawmakers have approved can better advocate for bigger-picture policy and budgetary issues, Hancock said.
"Part of this is atmospheric, that it's somebody that's gone through the process, has been confirmed, is fully vested with the powers of the administrator, and their voice takes on a certain heft that it may not have otherwise," Hancock said. "If you're Senate-confirmed, your voice is taken more seriously and is heard by more people."
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