The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump is far, far behind on nominations for key posts

President Trump attends the Group of Seven summit last month in Taormina, Italy. (Flavio Lo Scalzo/European Pressphoto Agency)

President Trump whines that the Senate has been slow in confirming his nominees. The statistics tell a different, jaw-dropping tale. The Partnership for Public Service, which is teaming with The Post to track nominations, provides some stunning figures.

As of June 5 with regard to State Department nominees, Trump has nominated just 14 people, with seven confirmed. By the same date in his term, President Barack Obama had nominated 37 with 19 confirmed; President George W. Bush (who got a late transition start due to the Florida election count) had nominated 41, with 25 confirmed. In terms of all nominees, as of June, Trump had nominated only 110 people, with 40 confirmed. Obama had nominated 252, with 151 confirmed; Bush 43 had nominated 214, with 127 confirmed. (Note: Because the number of positions changes from administration to administration, the number of available positions is not necessarily identical, although some of the numbers remain very similar.)

The problem is even more acute than it might appear at first glance when one considers the level and importance of the open jobs. The Partnership for Public Service informs me that as of today, the Trump administration has nominated zero undersecretaries or assistant secretaries in the State Department (out of a total of 28). At the Defense Department, out of 35 spots at this level, only three assistant secretaries and one undersecretary has been named. By contrast, at this point in the Obama administration, 13 had been nominated for these posts at State, and 14 at the Defense Department. The Bush 43 numbers were 14 and 10, respectively.

These are not disposal nor inconsequential positions. At the State Department, they make up the backbone of the department and have responsibility for everything from management and security to human rights, arms control and regional (e.g. Europe, Near Eastern) affairs. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and a handful of aides may think that they are holding down the ship, but without people in key spots who share their priorities, words on a policy document never get implemented. They may be very busy and turn out lots of memos, but the result is entropy.

The Post reports:

It’s been almost a month since President Trump fired James B. Comey on May 9, leaving the FBI without a director. Under normal circumstances, a president planning to fire the head of the nation’s top law-enforcement agency might do so only once he had a replacement lined up. (The only other time an FBI director was fired, President Bill Clinton announced his replacement the next day.) Trump didn’t do that, pledging instead that a new director would be identified quickly. Shortly before he left on his overseas trip last month, he promised that he was “very close” to picking a new director. That was almost three weeks ago. …
Three of Trump’s picks to head the Army and Navy have withdrawn from consideration, Vincent Viola (Army), Philip Bilden (Navy) and Mark Green (Army). His first pick to run the Labor Department withdrew. His pick for deputy treasury secretary withdrew, as did his pick for deputy commerce secretary. Trump’s first pick to run the Office of Drug Control Policy, Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), withdrew. Monica Crowley, his pick for National Security Council spokesperson, withdrew. A lawyer on the shortlist for solicitor general withdrew.
Even Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway’s husband, George, withdrew from consideration for a top job with the Justice Department.

Quite simply, a lot of people don’t want to work for this president, especially now that he is mired in scandal and so obviously contemptuous of advice from more seasoned members of his administration. The fear of needing to “lawyer up” in an administration under investigation by a special prosecutor is real. And then, of course, Trump has eliminated from consideration qualified and experienced people whom he sees as insufficiently loyal.

In short, the unprecedented absence of people in key positions throughout the government is not the Senate’s fault. It’s Trump, who has chased away potential candidates. How are these jobs to be filled and the government to operate? My guess is they’ll stay open and the bureaucracy will operate on automatic pilot; the opportunity to affect policy for the long-term or even implement initiatives will be lost because Trump simply doesn’t know how to manage the executive branch. Considering some of the things he wants to do, this might actually be a relief to the country. That said, in a very real sense this is not Trump’s administration at all. The “administration” consists of Obama holdovers and Trump’s Twitter account.