Fixing the confirmation processChuck Hagel, nominee for the U.S. secretary of defense, endured a heavy grilling from former Senate colleagues at his confirmation hearing on Thursday. Questions hit on a number of issues, including the former Nebraska senator’s opposition to the war in Iraq, but none touched on his personal life.
The situation is different in Korea. After her first choice for prime minister, Kim Yong-joon, withdrew from the nomination process, President-elect Park Geun-hye complained of problems in the confirmation procedure. Nominees won’t have an opportunity to speak about their beliefs or prove their capabilities if they are merely questioned on personal matters, she said.
Since her remarks, the ruling Saenuri Party decided to form a task force to revise the legislation on confirmation hearings. It plans to propose holding closed sessions to delve into private matters related to candidates and then conduct separate open sessions to question them on work and policy issues.
We agree that confirmation hearings should be used to test candidates’ capabilities and determine what policies they envision. They can also provide momentum for society as a whole to contemplate important issues and an overall direction.
It is regrettable that debate on important issues like our future and the Constitution were lost in the barrage of criticism over personal matters in confirmation hearings for the new head of the Constitutional Court.
U.S. confirmation hearings focus strictly on policy issues because nominees are only selected after strict preliminary screening. The presidential transition committee checks tax, financial, real estate and criminal records of candidates with the help of the White House, Office of Government Ethics, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service.
All issues, including, for instance, candidates’ hiring of personal help, come under scrutiny, and officials request seven years of information from nominees’ neighbors.
Only once they successfully pass these initial steps can candidates proceed to Congress. They then submit preliminary questionnaires to legislators.
Korea can look to the U.S. system for inspiration. The country must address the problems in the current system without entirely neglecting candidates’ personal problems. Both the government and the legislature must strengthen preliminary investigation procedures before nominations begin so that hearings can concentrate on policies and not worry about skeletons in the closet.