Compared to recent past presidents, President Donald Trump “is ahead of most in nominations to date but behind in Senate confirmations,” says a Duke professor who served through two presidential transitions.
“The media has reported that the Trump administration is far behind in filling its politically appointed positions and suggested that desks were gathering dust throughout the government. Well … sort of,” says Douglas Brook, a visiting professor at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy who has served in four presidentially appointed positions.
“There are about 4,000 politically-appointed positions in the federal government. Nearly 1,200 are senior positions that require Senate confirmation. According to the data kept by the Partnership for Public Service, President Trump has sent 33 nominations to the Senate. This compares to 42 by Barack Obama, 22 by George W. Bush, 27 by Bill Clinton and 22 by George H.W. Bush at this point in their presidencies. In confirmations achieved, Trump has 14 compared to 28 for Obama, 19 for G.W. Bush, 25 for Clinton and 10 for G.H.W. Bush.”
“So, Trump is ahead of most in nominations to date but behind in Senate confirmations. This should not come as any surprise as Trump, a political outsider, has much less of a government-in-waiting -- policy experts and former officials standing by to serve in a new administration. This absence of bench strength is one good reason for a modest start in filling key positions.”
“And at least some Senate confirmations have been delayed by time-consuming vetting and background checks as well as by scheduling in a Senate that has been distracted by policy issues.”
“Is this bad? Probably not in the short run. Those positions are being filled temporarily by senior career civil servants and holdover Obama appointees. They are generally capable of managing the day-to-day operations of their departments. What’s missing is policy leadership and top-level strategic management.”
“Eighteen members of the cabinet have been confirmed by the Senate and are on the job. But almost none of the key policy and management appointive positions have even been announced or nominated and none have been confirmed. Trump may be right when he says there are too many political positions in the government and he might choose not to fill them all.”
“But he and his cabinet officers need deputy secretaries -- assistant secretaries for management, chief financial officers, chief information officers, chief human capital officers, general counsels and ambassadors -- to support his agenda and make his government work.”
“So, no real crisis yet. But the administration needs to get to work to fill these critical positions or they will fall behind in both the numbers and the job of governing.”
Douglas Brook, a visiting professor at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy, has served in four presidentially appointed positions, including through the outgoing transitions of both Bush presidencies.
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