PRETTY SOON, the Trump administration may trot out 100 or 200 new appointees to high-level positions in the U.S. government that require Senate confirmation. We hope these appointees are at least well along in the pipeline. As it stands now, President Trump is falling behind the pace of his recent predecessors in filling jobs in vital areas such as public health, foreign policy and military affairs, among others. While every administration moves too slowly, a prolonged period of empty chairs could hamper crisis management and weaken U.S. policy over the long term.
According to a tracker maintained by The Post and the Partnership for Public Service, of 553 high-level positions requiring Senate confirmation, only 22 have been confirmed, 24 formally nominated and awaiting confirmation, and 29 announced and waiting formal nomination. Similarly, the nonpartisan White House Transition Project, looking at historical trends and several metrics, says Mr. Trump is on track for the “worst performance in three decades” in terms of getting people appointed and confirmed to high-level positions. The project points out that at this point in other presidencies, there was a growing list of people nominated, a weighted historical average of 91 positions over a field of 970 presidential appointments, but in Mr. Trump’s case this number has been stuck for weeks at about 40.
What is the problem? We hear that the Trump White House has been examining people with a business background, often with very complex commitments, and some nominees are finding the labyrinth of ethics requirements and disclosure to be too forbidding. Also, strict loyalty testing — apparently excluding anyone who signed a “never Trump” letter or criticized Mr. Trump during the campaign — may be limiting the field. The White House has already rejected, unwisely, some potential nominees suggested by Cabinet members. Another factor is that Mr. Trump started out with far fewer résumés than were on hand when George W. Bush and Barack Obama took office.
Maybe it is all part of Mr. Trump’s plan to starve the government. He told Fox News in February, “When I see a story about ‘Donald Trump didn’t fill hundreds and hundreds of jobs,’ it’s because, in many cases, we don’t want to fill those jobs.” He added, “A lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint, because they’re unnecessary to have.”
Even allowing for Mr. Trump’s budget-cutting ambitions, it is dangerous to leave so many positions unfilled. As Lena H. Sun pointed out in The Post recently, the lack of permanent leadership could be a serious drawback in a pandemic. The State Department, too, seems to have many lights out; as of Monday there are no assistant secretaries nominated or confirmed. Acting career officials are working hard and in good faith, but they may not have the same clout and ambition as presidential appointees. Even those who disagree with Mr. Trump’s policies should not wish for a government that is hampered by inattention and vacancy.