Trump's Empty Offices
The government that has been seen as lurching from one crisis to another is also understaffed. The Republicans have control of Congress and the White House, and yet 60% of key positions that require Senate confirmation remain unfilled.  Admittedly, 140 of the top 630 jobs have nominees who have yet to be confirmed, but 240 other positions have no nominee. Deputies and special appointees are largely filling these positions, but according to the law, special appointees can only hold many of these posts for 300 days . This means many of the people carrying out these duties are doing so with no legal authority. In the middle of the opium crisis in America, the Office of National Drug Control Policy is without a drug czar and Representative Tom Marino withdrew from consideration for the posting. For the time being, the chief of staff and the deputy chief of staff are in charge of the office. Until recently, the deputy was a 24-year-old with no background in political affairs and handled the administrative duties rather than policy .
Additionally, many people that Trump nominated for essential roles have been criticized for being lackeys or unqualified or unprepared for their position. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is currently being sued for rolling back protections for people who report sexual assault  and Secretary Ben Carson’s HUD has mostly been prominent for trying to stall two Obama Era policies relating to fair housing . Three of Trump’s judicial nominees in the past year have been viewed as unqualified either for their statements on specific cases or their lack of experience, though Trump still has a large number of judicial nominees awaiting Senate confirmation .
Further, Trump has seemingly taken steps to avoid working with federal agencies, and instead, delegates work to people in his inner circle who do not need Senate confirmation, but who also then do not have full access to the agencies’ resources. For example, Jared Kushner is supposedly heading the government’s efforts for internal reform, handling the opioid crisis, liaising with Mexico, China, and the Muslim communities, overseeing the Middle East peace process, and managing criminal justice reform . He serves as Special Assistant to the President and also runs the Office of American Innovation, hoping to stimulate job growth . There are other agencies that could be doing this work but, again, they are understaffed or underfunded.
President Trump promised to make infrastructure and the opioid crisis top priorities, but the offices who would usually tackle these issues are currently without appointed leaders . While there is something to be said about the dangers of Trump appointing people to handle such crucial roles, it may be worse that he hasn’t done anything. At least if he made formal nominations, the Senate could theoretically vet the appointees. Then again, DeVos slipped through the nomination process. Still, I would be more comfortable knowing that there were experienced people taking up these roles and while I am sure most of the temporary heads of these agencies are doing a great job, there needs to be something more permanent. Just not Jared Kushner.
A quick post-script about the updates since I wrote this:
Jared Kushner has been unable to pass an FBI background check for his top secret security clearance and is now working with a secret-level security clearance while he continues with his jobs. Gary Cohn and Hope Hicks voluntarily left their positions in the Trump Administration, but those positions were not Senate confirmable so their replacement is not such a difficult (or thoroughly vetted) process. Finally, Secretary of State Tillerson has been ousted at Trump’s request, opening the door for Mike Pompeo to move from CIA to State (pending Senate confirmation) and Pompeo’s deputy, Gina Haspel, to move to the Director’s seat (again, pending confirmation). At the time of the writing of this post-script, it is unclear whether Tillerson’s so-called “suicide pact” with Secretary of Defense James Mattis or Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will result in their resignations as well. So, at the time of this publication, there will be at least two and maybe as many as four positions in Trump’s inner circle awaiting appointments or Senate confirmation.
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