from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2010, Issue No. 13
February 8, 2010

Secrecy News Blog:


Last week, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) placed a "hold" on all of the Obama Administration nominations that are pending before the Senate, thereby preventing a vote on their confirmation. There are said to be at least 70 such nominations awaiting Senate action, including those of several senior defense and intelligence officials. Sen. Shelby, a man of flexible principles who has served as both a Democrat and a Republican, reportedly adopted the blanket holds in an attempt to compel the Administration to award certain defense contracts to his home state of Alabama.

Shelby's action is "outlandish," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on the Senate floor last Thursday. But that was as far as he was prepared to go, or perhaps farther than he intended to go. Striking a tactical retreat, he immediately added: "I can't imagine this is the right thing to do."

The new obstructionism has the potential to cripple the U.S. government, warned Paul Krugman today in the New York Times, and to do so in a particularly pointless and humiliating way: "Instead of re-enacting the decline and fall of Rome, we’re re-enacting the dissolution of 18th-century Poland," he wrote.

Confronted with rampant irresponsibility and procedural abuse, the White House and the Majority party are not -- or should not be -- helpless to respond. In theory, their options include recess appointments to circumvent the Senate confirmation process, and the so-called "nuclear" option to alter existing Senate procedures. These alternatives, along with related background, have been usefully described in a series of reports from the Congressional Research Service.

"Recess Appointments: Frequently Asked Questions," updated March 12, 2008:

"'Entrenchment' of Senate Procedure and the 'Nuclear Option' for Change: Possible Proceedings and Their Implications," March 28, 2005:

"Cloture Attempts on Nominations," March 30, 2009:

"'Holds' in the Senate," May 19, 2008:

"Senate Policy on 'Holds': Action in the 110th Congress," March 14, 2008:

"Filibusters and Cloture in the Senate," March 28, 2003:

"Minority Rights and Senate Procedures," August 22, 2005:


Several recent reports from the Congressional Research Service provide descriptive profiles of the present and past composition of Congress by race, ethnicity, gender, education, religion and occupation.

"Membership of the 111th Congress: A Profile," February 4, 2010:

"Women in the United States Congress: 1917-2009," December 23, 2009:

"Asian Pacific Americans in the United States Congress," February 1, 2010:

"African-American Members of the United States Congress: 1870-2009," February 2, 2010:


Other new reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following:

"Al Qaeda and Affiliates: Historical Perspective, Global Presence, and Implications for U.S. Policy," February 5, 2010:

"The Rum Excise Tax Cover-Over: Legislative History and Current Issues," January 20, 2010:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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