John Fund reports that the vast majority of sub-Cabinet slots that require Senate confirmation are vacant because of what Fund calls “a personnel crisis in the Trump White House.”
[President] Trump has named only 20 sub-Cabinet-level positions, including two who withdrew — a list that includes nominees for ambassadorships, counsel positions, and commissioners, according to a tracker from the Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service.
CNN reports that “Trump has more than 1,900 vacancies within his new administration, most of which did not require Senate confirmation, according to data from tracking service Leadership Directories.
The White House objects to those numbers, but didn’t provide me with any data of their own to refute them.
I don’t know where previous new administrations stood at this point in the process — less than two months after Inauguration Day. However, Fund says that, as of a week ago, the Office of Presidential Personnel had only 18 people working in it — one-fifth the number employed by Bill Clinton at this point in his presidency.
At the Defense Department, not a single political appointee is on board to assist Secretary Mattis. Dov Zakheim, who served as the Pentagon budget chief during the George W. Bush administration, says “the delays are already causing much consternation among allies, especially in Europe and Southeast Asia, as their most senior working level day-to-day contacts — the deputy assistant secretaries — may not come on board until the summer.”
A top Trump official told Fund that some Cabinet secretaries have been informed they will be able to name their own deputies only after the White House is assured that they are not liberals and that they did not take a Never Trump stance in the 2016 election. This seems sensible. Team Trump shouldn’t want liberals, or even squishy conservatives, in key positions, and it’s understandable that the administration would snub NeverTrumpers.
It’s better to make good appointments than quick ones. Proper vetting is crucial.
The problem, if Fund is correct, lies in the fact that the White House personnel is not sufficiently staffed to perform the vetting expeditiously.
President Trump has his own explanation for some of the vacancies:
A lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint, because they’re unnecessary to have. We have so many people in government. . . . I say, What do all these people do? You don’t need all these jobs. . . . Many of those jobs I don’t want to fill.
Beyond the fact that this explanation does not apply to many of the unfilled jobs (surely, Secretary of Mattis will have appointees under him), the problem is that many of the jobs are now filled by liberal Democrats. Arnold Steinberg, a Republican strategist, told Fund:
[P]ersonnel is policy, which is being subverted by holdovers. Unfilled key positions enable synergistic dysfunction. In simple terms, the longer the hundreds of key positions remain unfilled, not only is sound policy delayed, but there is more damage, even sabotage.
I agree with Fund that the administration needs to pick up the pace and do it soon.