Hoist the distress flags. The ship of state under Donald Trump is a mass of floating departments operating with no captains and a skeleton crew.
A paltry 15% of key government positions have been filled by Trump. These are not non-essential jobs as some might argue. These are departments heads, ambassadors to the world, administrators of national agencies, liaisons with global organizations. This scenario resembles an oligarchy where the Trump-appointed, avowedly “loyal” Cabinet members rule their departments with no intermediate secretaries standing in the way of their decisions. Most troubling is the nearly complete absence of government experience by this Cabinet.
Each President is obligated to nominate people to fill over 1200 Executive branch positions. Those nominations are then approved by the Senate. But as seen in The Washington Post graphic (below), this president has abandoned over three dozen agencies, boards and commissions. He has yet to proffer nominations to the Senate for these entities.
Thus, the Export-Import Bank, NASA, the Federal Reserve, the Nuclear Regulatory Board, the Social Security Administration and Railroad Retirement Board, the departments of Labor and Agriculture, the Census Bureau, Equal Opportunity Commission, Defense Nuclear Facilities Board and Office of Personnel Management are functioning without a head. All five positions within the Federal Elections Commission are without a nominee. The same is true for the Federal Trade Commission, the National Science Foundation and the Federal Mine Safety and Review Commission. Career employees and Obama-era administrators keep these significant agencies afloat. And this is an incomplete list.
Trump’s malfeasance affects our international relations. The U.S. has no ambassadors for our European allies. He has not provided nominees for Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands and Sweden among others. We have no one to represent our country’s interests in South Korea, South America or much of the African continent including hot spots in the Mideast.
These are essential positions. Ambassadors have a transactional job: they keep the president aware of issues and crises and, they report executive policy to the individual countries. They also act as levers to soothe crises. All of these responsibilities have been vacated.
Ironically, Trump did nominate ambassadors to Russia and China. Neither country is an ally of the United States. However, the Trump brand does have extensive business interests in these nations. Manufacturing, trademarks and other investments bring in money for the Trump family. A CNN report stated that Trump and his family have business interests in 25 countries including China, India, Russia, the UAE and Israel.
Consequences of empty seats in government are surfacing each time there is an international incident. For example, while North Korea is firing nuclear warheads capable of reaching US territory, the State Department is bereft of key executives who can advise on this crisis. Trump has yet to nominate an assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, Near Eastern affairs or South Asian affairs. The same holds for parallel positions in the Department of Defense.
The recent blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and other aligned countries saw the Secretary of State and the President at odds in their public stands. The President criticized Qatar, home to a significant US Navy base, while Tillerson called for diplomacy. The policy collision is evidence of what Tillerson called a “disorganized” operational structure under Trump.
Meanwhile, the Secretary of State just announced he is shuttering the Coordinator for Cyber Security and folding the office into the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. This presents a serious problem. The receiving Bureau has no assistant secretary in place to run it. With the President talking about sharing cyber security with the Kremlin to “safeguard” US elections, the potential perils are horrifying.
Within the Department of Homeland Security, there is no FEMA director. Citizens in states susceptible to floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters may wonder how this agency will coordinate efforts during an emergency or catastrophic event.
In the Executive branch, the Science division of the Office of Science and Technology is empty. The last of the Obama staff departed on 30 June and have not been replaced by Trump. This once-robust office advised the President on “STEM education, biotechnology and crisis response.”
In nearly every federal department, Trump has failed to nominate an inspector general or legal counsel. This leaves the Trump government with virtually no independent oversight and no legal guidance or representation.
The list of absent positions is long, deep and shocking. It is akin to a hostile takeover of a multinational corporation where former executives are removed but not replaced. Refusing to staff key positions would cripple such an entity. In this case, we are talking about the government of the United States.
This is not normal.