NO ONE should fall for the notion of a conspiratorial “deep-state” cabal running the government, as some of President Trump’s supporters like to suggest. But there is a phalanx of officials who are powerful and influence the course of events: hundreds of presidential appointees across the government. They hammer out policy and then execute it.
Strangely, it is this vital corps, people who would be architects and managers of this presidency, that Mr. Trump has neglected to fully choose. Although the Senate approved a big chunk of nominees before leaving town for the August recess, the president is still lagging behind his predecessors — way behind — in appointing the most important personnel in his government.
Of more than 1,100 positions requiring Senate confirmation, the Senate has only confirmed 124, according to Partnership for Public Service. The president has nominated only 277. This compares with 310 confirmed and 433 nominated at the same point by President Barack Obama, 294 confirmed and 414 nominated by President George W. Bush, and 252 confirmed and 345 nominated by President Bill Clinton. The Cabinet departments still lack leaders. Among the 591 positions The Post is tracking with Partnership for Public Service, three agencies — Labor, Agriculture and Energy — have fewer than 10 percent of their key political appointees in place, and eight agencies have less than 25 percent. The Department of Health and Human Services has 82 percent of its political appointees nominated and 41 percent filled, the most of any department in Trump land.
The nonpartisan White House Transition Project has found that Mr. Trump’s pace in standing up the government is the slowest in 40 years. While the Senate has been responsible for some of the delay, the pace of Senate approvals is now on a par with those for previous presidents, the project reports. But Mr. Trump’s White House has been extremely slow in filling the pipeline of nominees. The State Department’s assistant secretary posts — key positions that help manage U.S. policy and the president’s agenda around the world — have largely been left vacant during Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s lengthy review. The Defense Department is doing better, but neither of these agencies has a nominated assistant secretary for Asian and Pacific affairs, vital posts at a time of tension in the region.
We doubt Mr. Trump wants to gut his own administration. More likely the slow pace is a sign of neglect. He should put renewed effort into turning the lights on in management offices all over town, simply out of interest in advancing his own agenda. Surely in this nation of 323 million people there are good candidates for top government positions. They need to be found, nominated and confirmed.