Candidate Donald Trump boasted that he’d run government like a business. What he didn’t say is that he’d run it like his business — namely by refusing to delegate to skilled managers, prizing family ties and loyalty above qualifications, and cutting corners whenever possible.
President Trump has failed to fill key positions in the government — positions that are essential for protecting the United States, defending its interests abroad and providing basic government services. Instead, he’s leaving them vacant, appointing cronies or cutting corners by using “acting” officials to avoid Senate confirmation of those who might not get approved on their merits.
There are 705 key jobs nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Two hundred seventy-five of them — nearly 40 percent — have no confirmed officeholder. For 149 of those posts, Trump hasn’t even bothered nominating anyone. His pace of appointments is far slower than that of his predecessors. For the commander in chief, that’s dereliction of duty.
With Trump, it’s sometimes difficult to determine when he’s acting out of callous malignancy and when he’s acting out of callous indifference. Separating screaming children from their parents at the border? That’s calculated cruelty. But when it comes to vacancies, it seems Trump just doesn’t care. And his apathy is having a disastrous effect.
Let’s start with the State Department. Seventy-one positions remain unfilled. Trump blames the Democrats for obstructing his nominees. But you can’t obstruct a nomination that doesn’t exist. Trump hasn’t even gotten around to naming 32 people to key State Department posts. Now, it is true that confirmations in the Republican-controlled Senate are dragging on slightly longer than with previous administrations. But almost all of the 38 pending State Department nominations were submitted in only the last few months.
What’s the point of an ambassador to Turkey? It’s not like Trump’s announced withdrawal of troops from Syria and the potential Turkish slaughter of our Kurdish allies require a steady, seasoned hand, right? And why bother naming an ambassador to Pakistan, a nuclear power that is a key player in the global war on terrorism? After all, Trump lashed out at Pakistan on Twitter twice in November, so I’m sure it got the message. In total, Trump has failed to nominate ambassadors to 18 strategic countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Qatar and Colombia.
What about the special envoy to North Korea who would be tasked with pressing Kim Jong Un to stop starving his people or presiding over a system of other abuses including sexual violence and murder? Who cares? Trump is “in love” with Kim, and I’m sure that’s comforting to the hundreds of thousands of dissidents rotting in Kim’s gulags.
Of course, human rights have never been Trump’s strong suit. But what’s most staggering about the vacancies is that agencies charged with carrying out his signature campaign promises are also riddled with personnel holes due to Trump’s neglect.
Drain the swamp? Well, to do that you need inspectors general — the government watchdogs who tackle waste, fraud and abuse in government agencies. Trump hasn’t nominated one for the Defense Department, the Education Department, the CIA, the Export-Import Bank, the Office of Personnel Management, or the Environmental Protection Agency. If he had, they might have had more to say about then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s $139,000 doors or his dodgy land deal. And those inspectors general might have had more to say about the conflicts of interest embedded in the 188 former lobbyists Trump appointed to government posts, too.
Build the wall and get Mexico to pay for it? It might be a good idea to name an ambassador to Mexico, but Trump hasn’t since the last one resigned in early 2018.
Secure the border? Maybe you’d want to nominate a second-in-command at the Department of Homeland Security. Nah, apparently not.
Stop the “terrible drug flow”? It might be worth nominating the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, or at least nominating a second in command at the DEA. Neither post has a nominee.
In some ways, this is a blessing in disguise. After all, Trump put his son-in-law in charge of the Middle East, tasked his daughter with helping to pick the World Bank president, chose an oil lobbyist to protect America’s great outdoors and selected a former vice president at a defense contractor to lead the Defense Department. He put Eric Trump’s wedding planner — a woman who tried to get a colleague fired by invoking her connections to Eric Trump — in charge of federal housing in New York and New Jersey. It’s the spoils system on steroids.
And, while it’s unsurprising from a misogynist, it’s unacceptable that only 23 percent of President Trump’s nominees have been women.
Even if Trump were trying to recruit qualified leaders, he has doomed Americans to government by unqualified lightweights. After he called his former secretary of state “dumb as a rock,” and fired others by tweet for speaking truth to power, you’d have to be either a spineless sycophant or a masochist to sign up for this administration.
Trump’s actions in the first half of his term have caused tremendous harm. But his inaction has, too. Americans deserve to have key government posts staffed by qualified professionals. Instead, we’re stuck with a hollowed-out shell of vacancies and vapid cronies.