The Lead

What’s in a name? Seven top state officials lead under ‘acting’ label; await Senate confirmation

By: - April 4, 2021 7:43 am

Pennsylvania Senate Chambers. Source: WikiMedia Commons

Leaders of seven state agencies are performing their duties under the title “acting secretary,” a designation that will precede their title until they are confirmed by the state Senate. 

Lyndsay Kensinger, spokesperson for Gov. Tom Wolf’s office, confirmed that seven state officials are currently listed under the “acting” title: 

  • Jennifer Berrier, Department of Labor & Industry 
  • Alison Beam, Department of Health
  • Noe Ortega, Department of Education 
  • Veronica Degraffenreid, Secretary of the Commonwealth
  • Dr. Denise Johnson, Physician General
  • Suzanne Estrella, Victim Advocate
  • Maj. Gen. Mark J. Schindler, Adjutant General

An eighth will join the list later this month when Meg Snead will be formally nominated to lead the Department of Human Services, following Secretary Teresa Miller’s departure. 

Wolf announced his intent to nominate Snead, the administration’s Policy and Planning Secretary, in March.

While the word “acting” may precede their formal title, Kensinger clarified that the designation does not affect that official’s ability to carry out their duties. 

“There is nothing they cannot do that a confirmed official can,” Kensinger said. 

In order to remove the “acting” label from their titles, the seven state officials will need to be confirmed by the state Senate by a two-thirds majority. 

According to Pennsylvania’s Constitution, the Senate must act on a nomination within “25 legislative days of its submission.” If the nomination is made while the Senate is in recess, the countdown does not begin until the state’s upper chamber has returned. 

The Constitution also clarifies that “If the Senate for any reason fails to act upon a nomination submitted to it within the required 25 legislative days, the nominee shall take office as if the appointment had been consented to by the Senate.”

Erica Clayton Wright, Communications Director for Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, provided the Capital-Star with an update on the confirmation process for several of the acting officials. 

“We are still in the administrative process,” Wright said. “Snead has not yet been nominated as Miller has not departed, Beam is still filing paperwork [and] Berrier and Ortega are finalizing their meetings with members.”

Although she did not provide an exact timeline, Wright said “Hearings should be scheduled in the near future.”

While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led many state government operations to limit in-person interactions and live stream meetings, Wright told the Capital-Star that the pandemic has not changed the confirmation process. 

With several nominees being considered, Kensinger said the administration is “eager to see the Senate advance these nominations through the process.”

“The governor is confident in the extensive experience of each one of the nominees, and their shared commitment of advancing the missions of the departments they have been selected to lead,” Kensinger said.

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.