Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., reintroduced the Accountability for Acting Officials Act last week – co-sponsored by nine other House Democrats, including Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. – that would make a series of changes with respect to the appointment, tenure, and qualifications of acting officials of executive agencies.

The June 30 legislation aims to reform the 1998 Federal Vacancies Reform Act, which governs who can serve temporarily in positions that require presidential appointment and Senate confirmation, and for how long.

“Federal agency heads, who help implement our laws, are supposed to be confirmed by the Senate,” Rep. Porter wrote in a July 5 tweet. “I just reintroduced my Accountability for Acting Officials Act to close loopholes that can be exploited to place unqualified people in positions of power.”

The bill would limit the amount of time acting agency heads can serve, require acting officials to testify at least once every 60 days before Congress, and prevent presidents from appointing acting officials to lead the agencies without pertinent experience.

The bill specifies that for a position that requires presidential appointment and confirmation by the Senate:

  • The first assistant to the office may temporarily fill the position only if the individual has been the first assistant for at least 30 days during the preceding year;
  • An employee of the agency who is directed by the president to temporarily fill the position may only do so if the employee has served at the agency for at least the entire preceding year; and
  • An individual who is a presidential appointee and is directed by the president to temporarily fill the position must possess the requisite qualifications for the position as provided by law or regulation.

Additionally, the bill would limit the tenure of acting heads of agencies to no more than 120 days – rather than 210 days currently.

The Accountability for Acting Officials Act was introduced by Rep. Porter and referred to the House Oversight Committee during the past two congressional sessions as well. The bill has never made it out of committee.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently called for the White House to quickly appoint a permanent National Cyber Director, and also urged the Office of the National Cyber Director (ONCD) to move with dispatch on helping Federal agencies prepare for implementing the National Cybersecurity Strategy released by ONCD in March.

Kemba Walden has been serving as acting NCD since NCD Chris Inglis resigned from that position earlier this year.

“This vacancy leaves unfilled a key leadership role needed to coordinate federal efforts to address cybersecurity threats and challenges,” GAO said in its report. “Further, sustained leadership in this position is essential to ensuring strategy execution and accountability.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.