Newly synthesized proteins are triaged between biosynthesis and degradation to maintain cellular homeostasis, but the decision-making mechanisms are unclear. We reconstituted the core reactions for membrane targeting and ubiquitination of nascent tail-anchored membrane proteins to understand how their fate is determined. The central six-component triage system is divided into an uncommitted client-SGTA complex, a self-sufficient targeting module, and an embedded but self-sufficient quality control module. Client-SGTA engagement of the targeting module induces rapid, private, and committed client transfer to TRC40 for successful biosynthesis. Commitment to ubiquitination is dictated primarily by comparatively slower client dissociation from SGTA and nonprivate capture by the BAG6 subunit of the quality control module.