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Hundreds of key jobs across federal government remain vacant three months into Trump administration
April 21, 2017: Hundreds of key jobs across the federal government remain vacant as a result of an overworked White House personnel office that is frustrating Cabinet secretaries and hampering President Trump’s ability to carry out his ambitious legislative agenda. The process is bogged down as a result of micromanaging by the President and senior staff, turf wars between the West Wing and Cabinet secretaries and a largely inexperienced and overworked staff, say more than a dozen sources including administration insiders, lobbyists, lawyers and Republican strategists. Trump personally oversees the hiring process for agency staff by insisting on combing through a binder full of names each week and likes to sign off on each one, according to two people with knowledge of the administration’s hiring process. Also weighing in on the names--and not always agreeing on final picks--are leaders of sometimes warring factions, including Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Senior Strategist Steve Bannon, Cabinet Secretaries and, sometimes, the White House’s top lawyer, Don McGahn.
“It’s like a medieval court,” said one person advising potential nominees through the confirmation process. “The White House meets once a week to go over personnel in some attempt to create uniformity, but in this White House, you just have to smile at that… It’s hard to impose uniformity among the White House’s different coalitions.” The only uniformity is that potential hires must show fealty to the President. One person close to the White House said a sense of “paranoia” has taken over amid fears that disloyal hires might undercut Trump’s agenda or leak to the press.
All of this adds up to unusual pressure on the White House Office of Presidential Personnel, which is charged with filling thousands of jobs throughout the federal government, according to former personnel staffers from the administrations of former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. The top-heavy decision-making has put the Trump White House behind other West Wings in filling out the ranks of the federal government. Of the 553 key appointments that require U.S. Senate approval, the White House has formally nominated twenty-four people and twenty-two have been confirmed, according to data from the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, to say nothing of the thousands of slots that don't require confirmation. By comparison, Obama had 54 people confirmed by April 7; Bush, 32; and Bill Clinton, 44.
“Not having the people in the agency offices means it’s harder to do different or new things,” said Clay Johnson, who ran the Personnel Office for Bush. “If you want to keep on keeping on, the career staff can do that.” The White House disputes that its process is flawed and said the President weighs in only on Senate-confirmable positions. “We didn’t come with the same type of bench that other presidents come in with,” said one senior White House official, referring to Trump’s lean campaign staff. “We’re being more deliberative and selective to make sure our hires are in line with the president’s objectives. I would not say we are slow. We are making progress.”