Donald Trump’s administration has a revolving door the likes of which is virtually unprecedented in presidential history.
The nation’s acting defense secretary has pulled out. Patrick Shanahan has decided he doesn’t want to be considered for a permanent appointment.
Hey, no biggie, says the president. He thanked Shanahan for doing a “great job.” Now he’s got to look for another defense boss.
But the president who boasts about his administration being a “fine-tuned machine” has a lot of spots to fill. If he chooses to fill them.
According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: Definitive listings of acting officials in Trump’s and other administrations are hard to come by because no agency keeps overall records. Yet Christina Kinane, an incoming political science professor at Yale, compiled data in her doctoral dissertation, “Control Without Confirmation: The Politics of Vacancies in Presidential Appointments.”
Kinane found that from 1977 through mid-April of this year — from the administration of President Jimmy Carter through the first half of Trump’s — 266 individuals held Cabinet posts. Seventy-nine of them held their jobs on an acting basis, or 3 in 10.
Under Trump, 22 of the 42 people in top Cabinet jobs have been acting, or just over half.
And though Trump’s presidency has spanned less than 5% of the years covered, his administration accounts for more than 27% of the acting officials tallied. Kinane’s figures include holdovers from previous administrations, some of whom serve for just days.
The bottom line is that Trump either cannot find qualified individuals to fill these posts on permanent bases, or he simply chooses not to take the time required to vet them properly.
It’s fair to wonder whether the nation is served well by so many “acting” top-level officials. How can they make serious administrative policy decisions? How does their staff take them totally seriously? In posts involving foreign policy, how do these interim appointments play in foreign capitals? How do our allies trust fully that these acting officials speak for the United States?
Trump has said he “likes” having acting top officials, saying something weird about how it gives him “flexibility.”
I happen to believe that the flexibility Trump relishes also breeds uncertainty. And confusion and chaos.
Trump promised to surround himself with the “best people.” He said he knows the “best words.” That he went to the “best schools.”
He also said that “I, alone can fix” the damage purportedly done to the country. Donald Trump’s inability or unwillingness to fill these posts might be good for his ego, but profoundly bad for the country.