President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order establishing regulatory reform officers and task forces in US agencies in Washington, DC on February 24, 2017.
Olivier Douliery - Pool/Getty Images

Trump’s new personnel plan: leave parts of his administration empty

At a distance, the White House’s personnel problems appear to be a mess. Between withdrawn nominees, forced resignations, and empty offices, Donald Trump’s team is clearly not where it needs to be more than a month after the president’s inauguration.

But that’s not how Trump sees it. Here’s how the Republican characterized the issue in a Fox News interview this morning:
“When I see a story about ‘Donald Trump didn’t fill hundreds and hundreds of jobs,’ it’s because, in many cases, we don’t want to fill those jobs.

“A lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint, because they’re unnecessary to have. You know, we have so many people in government, even me, I look at some of the jobs and it’s people over people over people. I say, ‘What do all these people do?’ You don’t need all those jobs…. Many of those jobs, I don’t want to fill.”
At a certain level, I can appreciate the thinking behind the knee-jerk reaction. Trump has failed to nominate people for key posts; he’s facing criticism; so he instinctively makes the case that his failure is actually an underappreciated success that only looks like a failure.

To acknowledge the problem would be to admit a misstep, which this president isn’t inclined to do.

But post-hoc rationalizations notwithstanding, comments like the ones he made this morning suggest Trump still doesn’t quite understand how government works.

As of this yesterday, of the 549 top positions in the executive branch that require Senate confirmation, 515 of them don’t yet have a nominee. According to the president, many of them never will.

Most White Houses would find such an approach ridiculous because presidents want to fill those posts with competent, like-minded people who’ll help execute an administration’s policy agenda. We’re not talking about random, low-level officials who are overlooked in a bureaucratic sea; we’re talking about powerful, high-ranking positions throughout the executive branch, tackling issues as diverse as national security, international diplomacy, and federal law enforcement.

In a literal sense, these offices are filled with people who are responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the federal government. To leave those offices without nominees, on purpose, means one of two things: either career civil servants will try to tackle the work that would ordinarily be done by political appointees, or the work simply won’t be done at all.

By all appearances, Trump does not know or care about any of this. Even his allies should consider this absurd.

Donald Trump and White House

Trump's new personnel plan: leave parts of his administration empty