American Culture

President Donald’s already shrunken government

The Trump transition team has yet to name all its executive branch officials, moving to fill only about 4 percent of positions needing Senate approval.

trumpPresident Donald has yet to flesh out the rest of the executive branch despite Vice President Mike Pence’s claim that “We’re wrapping up this transition on schedule and under budget,” according to Politico’s Influence newsletter.

The heat of media scrutiny has fallen on top-level Cabinet posts, and deservedly so. But President Donald as of yesterday, when he was still president-elect, has moved to fill only 4 percent of the 690 executive branch appointments requiring Senate confirmation.

From an analysis by Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein:

Look at the big four departments. There’s no Trump appointee for any of the top State Department jobs below secretary nominee Rex Tillerson. No Trump appointee for any of the top Department of Defense jobs below retired general James Mattis. Treasury? Same story. Justice? It is one of two departments (along with, bizarrely, Commerce) where Trump has selected a deputy secretary. But no solicitor general, no one at civil rights, no one in the civil division, no one for the national security division.

And the same is true in department after department. Not to mention agencies without anyone at all nominated by the president-elect.

According to Politico’s Michael Crowley, the lack of necessary appointments in the national security apparatus prompts the question of whether President Donald’s administration will be prepared to deal with unexpected or unanticipated crises.

The abrupt withdrawal of a top Trump National Security Council appointee and the dozens of high-level personnel holes across key foreign policy and defense agencies have national security experts posing a dark question: Will Donald Trump be ready to manage a national security crisis from Day One?

Sources close to the transition describe Trump’s national security staffing as a “black box,” leaving everyone from Obama administration officials to Trump job seekers and foreign diplomats guessing at who will land crucial positions shaping policy and managing crises.

Much of the speculation focuses on the NSC, which plays the vital role of coordinating foreign policy and national security within the White House. NSC aides refine and advise the president on competing policy options generated throughout the federal government.

But the Trump team has also not yet announced any appointments below the Cabinet level for the departments of State or Defense, leaving many more important posts open days before Trump’s inauguration.

In Crowley’s piece, Philip Gordon, who held senior National Security Council jobs in the Obama and Clinton White Houses, explains why this is dangerous.

Unlike State, which can rely on its bureaucracy, the NSC has to be ready on Day One as most of its old team leaves. In a normal world, even before a single presidential phone call or meeting or decision the NSC team would prepare background, points, facts, etc. They will not have a team ready to do that. But it’s not clear Trump operates that way or would use any of the stuff anyway.

President Donald’s administration arrives far from fully formed. Will he be able to take advantage (given the GOP controls Congress) of that media-proclaimed honeymoon known as the First 100 Days?

Writes Bernstein:

When it comes to policy, Trump will be only a vague presence in the executive branch during the months when presidents normally have the best chance to get things done. It’s not news to anyone that bureaucrats are skilled in resisting the preferences of presidents. But an entrenched bureaucracy against a secretary (and in most cases, a secretary with little government experience or little policy expertise or both) and a bunch of empty desks? That’s no contest. Congress and interest groups may still have plenty of clout inside the departments and agencies, but Trump, at least until he has some people there, will have little.

[E]ven if there’s no catastrophic failure, lack of leadership will, as should be no surprise, yield inertia and low morale, leading to steadily worse performance.

Perhaps the failure to fill these positions represents President Donald’s attempt to shrink the size of the federal government as he promised. If so, he’s wrong: These are the positions he could use to actually accomplish that.

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