Trump Administration Has Filled Just 5 Percent of Posts
Worry mounts among GOP lawmakers at pace of nominations, lags past presidents
President Donald Trump complains the Democrats are slowing his Cabinet appointments, but even Republican senators are now admitting frustration over the administration’s slow pace of nominations for political jobs in the government.
A top GOP senator, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, told Politico’s “Morning Energy” newsletter on Wednesday the numbers of vacancies is a concern and “it’s driving me crazy.”
“We’re actually slower than Iraq when it comes to standing up our government after an election. It’s not a partisan issue. It’s a structural issue.”
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told Politico that the process itself is “frustratingly slow,” pointing to paperwork that nominees must finish.
One thing is for sure: It’s not all on Trump or the slow-walking Senate Democrats. The federal government has a problem “standing up” its new government after an election.
And while most people probably think that is what the transition is for — between the time of the election and inauguration — the truth is only a small percentage of personnel decisions are made in that time. They usually involve the top slots, such as the Cabinet positions and the top White House staff.
The president ultimately has say in 4,000 jobs in the federal government. Of those, about 1,200 need Senate confirmation.
Of the 1,200 needing Senate confirmation, the White House Transition Project whittled down its analysis to 970 key “PAS” employees. (PAS stands for presidential-appointed, Senate-confirmed.) The project doesn’t care too much about U.S. marshals and many ambassadors, according to Terry Sullivan, the project’s executive director — so it focuses on the 970 — the policymaking people.
The project, an independent agency run by the Moody Foundation, charts progress on Trump’s naming of PAS employees. It finds him behind the average performance of the previous three presidents.
At this point in March, the previous three administrations had 42 people of the 970 nominated. Trump has 35 people nominated, according to the tracker.
Getting those 970 in office is how the project judges if the new government is “standing.” At this point in history, the previous three administrations were over 10 percent of the way to a standing government. Trump’s administration is barely over 5 percent.
White House Pushes Back
The White House notes it is only seven employees behind the average.
And there are nearly 1,000 non-confirmed appointees working in the federal government as of Thursday, according to Lindsay Walters, deputy press secretary at the White House. Those are appointees who do not need Senate confirmation — part of the 4,000 people not needing Senate confirmation.
As for other slots — the most important ones needing Senate confirmation — Walters says Senate Democrats “have slow-walked this for political reasons.”
Trump has his defenders in the Senate. Speaking recently on the floor of the Senate, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) said the Democrats are sabotaging Trump’s personnel efforts.
“It is increasingly clear that the minority party is singularly focused on sabotaging this new administration at every turn,” Perdue said. “[Democrats] have exercised procedural rules in the Senate time and again beyond the intent of the Founders’ design in order to stop President Trump from even getting his team in place. Our President today … cannot have a staff meeting because he doesn’t have all of his Cabinet members in place.”
A Sluggish Process
There are, apparently, culprits beyond the usual suspects of politics. The truth, according to experts, is that the federal transition system of replacing an older government with a new one is bogged down by the Senate itself, a bloated, unreformed bureaucracy, and Capitol Hill’s inability to fix the process.
One problem is the paperwork that appointees have to fill out, according to Walters.
Nominees needing Senate confirmation have to fill out paperwork from the Office of Government Ethics. The FBI also has to run checks.
Walters said despite the long process of paperwork, the Trump administration is ahead of where former President Bill Clinton was in 1993, and where former President George W. Bush was in 2001.
Sullivan said the slow pace of getting a new government up and running is an American phenomenon.
“We’re actually slower than Iraq when it comes to standing up our government after an election,” said Sullivan. “It’s not a partisan issue. It’s a structural issue.”
Structurally, a problem is the Senate itself. And the bad news for the Trump White House is that the Senate actually gets slower in confirming people after August.
Sullivan said early nominees tend to have to wait 30 days on average for Senate confirmation. After August, when senators are more distracted by policy, a nominee could have to wait between 150 and 210 days.