It’s merely the latest top Trump administration job for which the president hasn’t bothered to find a permanent replacement for long periods of time. As Trump’s Cabinet has churned thanks to discord and scandal, he has increasingly opted to just go with acting officials for indefinite periods.
The result is a U.S. government that is increasingly run by people who haven’t been confirmed, or whom the president hasn’t otherwise seen fit to make official.
To this point in his presidency, Trump has kept acting officials in charge of top agencies and departments so much that they’ve accounted for 1 out of every 9 days in those positions. Across 22 Cabinet-level jobs, acting officials have served a total of 2,736 days — more than seven years of combined time.
Despite being just three years into his presidency, Trump has already surpassed the number of days in which acting officials served in the Obama administration. Across Obama’s eight years, there were 2,202 combined days in which acting officials served — about 1 out of every 29 days. Trump has had acting officials serve more than three times as much as did Obama.
And it should be noted that this estimate is somewhat generous to Trump. It does not include acting officials who were holdovers from the Obama administration and served in the early days of Trump’s tenure, before his first Cabinet nominees could be confirmed. If you include those acting officials, they account for about 1 out of every 8 days.
The longest-running acting stints in the Trump administration are tied: Trump elevated Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to acting White House chief of staff more than 400 days ago, and still hasn’t made him permanent or picked a replacement. Meanwhile, Trump also left Mulvaney’s old job in the hands of an acting official, Russell Vought, over that span.
(Mulvaney claimed in a private speech this week that he’s still in an acting capacity because his OMB salary is higher. “It’d be a $20,000 pay cut to take the job,” Mulvaney said.)
But even those aren’t the positions with the longest time under an acting head.
That distinction goes to Trump’s Department of Homeland Security, which has been under acting control for a combined 440 days under three acting secretaries. That’s nearly 40 percent of Trump’s entire presidency, including for the past 10 months under Kevin McAleenan, and then Chad Wolf. There is still no nominee.
Trump has had an acting head of the Small Business Administration for 277 days, which is about one-quarter of his presidency. He’s had one in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency for 234 days, or about 20 percent. The Defense Department has been run by an acting head for 203 days, and the directorate of national intelligence is now at 188 days and counting. Four other Cabinet jobs — attorney general, interior secretary, Veterans Affairs secretary and Health and Human Services secretary — have all had at least 99 days of acting control.
By contrast, only a handful of jobs approached those numbers in the Obama administration — and the ones that did generally weren’t official Cabinet positions, which require confirmation. Obama had acting heads of the Commerce Department for 380 days and the Labor Department for 182 days. No other Cabinet job had more than 73 days under acting control.
(His OMB had the most days under acting control, at 613. Four other unconfirmed Cabinet-level positions crested at least 100 days.)
The difference between Trump and predecessors such as Obama is that top officials for former presidents generally didn’t leave so abruptly, and when they departed, they often stayed on until a replacement could be confirmed. Trump has seen many of his top officials leave amid disagreements or scandals, and even when that hasn’t been the case, he’s been happy to just leave the departments under acting control with no rush to put someone permanently in the job. That’s more problematic when it comes to Cabinet posts, of course, which are supposed to be confirmed by the Senate. But the GOP-controlled Senate thus far hasn’t expressed much concern.
Update: After floating Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) as his nominee for DNI -- and having Collins shoot that down -- Trump tweeted Friday morning that he will choose from four candidates in the coming weeks.
Four great candidates are under consideration at DNI. Decision within next few weeks!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2020