How Trump’s Slow Hiring Is Undercutting His Agenda

President Donald Trump says he wants to cut the fat out of the government, but it appears he is not hiring the people to do so.

The issue of Trump’s slow pace when it comes to hiring administration officials has long dogged the president since he first walked into the Oval Office on January 20.

Of 591 key positions in the administration, Trump has yet to nominate anyone to fill 366 of them, according to analysis by the Partnership for Public Service for The Washington Post.

The debate over how best to fill those jobs caught Trump's attention last week when Laura Ingraham, editor-in-chief of LifeZette, criticized the White House for dragging its feet on hiring top staff. Ingraham told "Fox and Friends" on August 29 that Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other departments that are key to Trump's agenda are struggling to manage tasks with few top deputies.

Trump responded to "Fox and Friends" and Ingraham, that day, arguing the vacancies are deliberate and saying he was pursuing limited government by refusing to hire more officials.

"We are not looking to fill all of those positions. Don't need many of them — reduce size of government," Trump said on Twitter.

Trump has previously made that argument, even as advisers and supporters in his orbit say it doesn't make sense. For one, the lack of high-level Cabinet officials is reportedly hurting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose department does not have nominees to be ambassadors to Egypt, India, Ireland, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.

At the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense James Mattis has many Obama holdovers working for him. With the North Korean threat on the rise, this could create a problem.

Several advisers to Trump, both inside and out of the government, told LifeZette in the last week that the positions must be filled.

If there is fat to be cut, you need a leader to cut that fat, advisers and supporters told LifeZette. The leaders themselves aren't the fat.

"The president has a point about some of these positions being non-essential but only to a point, which he carried too far," said Robert Kaufman, a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University. "The insidious synergy of the president often leaving his people twisting in the wind, the slow pace of filling appointments, and the excessively high number of Obama holdovers threaten his agenda."

The dilemma for Trump's new people is that they have to do more with less. And they are not likely to trust President Obama's holdovers. It's a prescription for paralysis. It means officials like Robert Lighthizer, Trump's trade representative, has to renegotiate NAFTA without a top deputy.

LifeZette learned from a top government official this week that the vacant State Department positions are hurting efforts to interact with the Mexican government on such issues as trade and border enforcement.

The problem also means FEMA has to try to manage Houston-area flooding with a top official who has only worked at the agency since June.

Some of the positions, unfilled with no nominee, include assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs at the State Department; ambassador for nuclear non-proliferation, also at State; inspector general for the Pentagon, at Defense; assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement; administrator for the Drug Enforcement Agency; Veterans Affairs undersecretary for benefits; and director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

Those are all important positions key to Trump's promises to veterans, drug-abuse victims, blue-collar workers hoping for better trade deals, and many more constituencies.

The White House previously maintained many of the potential nominees and unannounced picks are going through background checks. Additionally, the Democrats are holding up picks.

"The president has long articulated that the federal government is too large and ineffective," said Lindsay Walters, deputy White House press secretary. "As a businessman, he is working to identify ways to streamline and create efficiencies while doing more with less. Whether it's protecting our borders or bringing jobs back to our shores, this administration will undoubtedly be staffed with the toughest negotiators who are cutting great deals for the American people."

Kaufman believes Trump should go back to picking loyalists, rather than letting Obama holdovers work as de facto department heads.

"The president surely has more in common with [former U.N. ambassador] John Bolton and hawkish internationalists who criticized him during the campaign than the Obama crowd at the National Security Council and State," said Kaufman. "Why not reach out to this talented and credible cohort rather than have paralysis or Obama people [be] the default position?"

Last Modified: September 5, 2017, 6:59 am

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