Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday Week in Review, Staff Edition

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

After more than fifty days in office, Trump's inaction on filling thousands of executive branch staff positions is starting to cause real problems. Most do not require Senate approval, meaning that only Trump's unwillingness to act--or to hire people who may have supported other Republican candidates--is getting in the way. However, it was reported this week that one Labor Dept. appointee, a Trump campaign volunteer, made the cut: Danny Tiso, who graduated from high school less than two years ago. 

There were warning signs that staffing would be a problem within the first week after the election, when Trump and his senior advisors were somehow surprised to learn that most White House staff were political appointees. (This revelation apparently prompted President Obama to devote more of his last months in office to preparing Trump for what the job involved.) As is typical, many Obama administration officials remained at their jobs until they could be replaced. But Trump, who is president of the United States, is now talking openly about shadowy "deep state" conspiracies against him. 

The confusion about who would or would not serve Trump's agenda manifested itself yesterday in the firing of US Attorney Preet Bharara. Trump's DOJ asked all 46 remaining Obama-appointed US Attorneys to resign on Friday. This is normal, but Trump it contradicted a personal invitation Trump had made during the transition to Bharara to stay on. As a result, Bharara declined to resign, causing Trump to fire him--but only after violating Justice Dept. protocol by attempting to contact Bharara directly to pressure him to resign voluntarily. (Because the DOJ is supposed to be politically independent, US Attorneys cannot normally take phone calls from the president--especially when the president's own personal dealings fall under that attorney's jurisdiction.)

Trump's refusal to hire people to do the actual work of government is having varied results. At the State Department, which has been particularly hard hit, surviving staff members tend to believe it is intentional and that Trump intends to conduct diplomacy mostly through military threats. This week, a spokesperson for the State Department was unaware that the Mexican Foreign Minister was taking meetings with Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner at the White House--which is sort of like the Defense Department not being informed if Mexico had invaded Texas. 

However, Trump's subordinates are finding creative ways of working more efficiently with fewer people. For example, the person assigned to write this press release about ExxonMobil saved time by simply putting the White House seal atop one of the oil company's own advertisements.

Why are these bad things?

  • It is bad if a president who allows important jobs to go undone because the most qualified people supported his political opponents.
  • It is equally bad if supporting the president becomes the only qualification needed for a government job.
  • A president who honestly believes in a conspiracy against him from within the executive branch is either paranoid or incompetent.
  • Giving contradictory instructions to different subordinates is not a sign of a good leader.
  • The U.S. Department of State is too valuable to prevent from doing its job.
  • The presidency of the United States of America should not be used as a megaphone for oil company press releases.