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Why is a college senior helping run a key White House office?

When Trump makes personnel decisions, he doesn't necessarily value "traditional qualifications." It's been a staple of his presidency, which is ongoing.
A view of the White House seen on April 7, 2015 in Washington, DC. A power outage hit many parts of downtown Washington, leaving several buildings in the dark, including the State Department and metro stations. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP - Getty Images

A couple of years ago, the Washington Post noted that when Donald Trump makes personnel decisions, he doesn't necessarily value "traditional qualifications." That always struck me as a polite way of saying the president has a habit of hiring unqualified people, indifferent to their preparedness.

It's a dynamic that led Trump to tap his young son-in-law, for example, to tackle a comically long list of White House priorities. The president's former golf caddy became the White House social media director. Trump's former bodyguard oversaw "Oval Office operations." A Trump family wedding planner was given a key post at HUD. At one point, the president even considered his pilot to lead the FAA.

Last week, Trump asked a Republican operative and notorious internet troll to oversee the U.S. intelligence community, at least for a while.

With this history in mind, Politico's new report on the White House personnel office probably shouldn't have come as too big of a surprise.

The White House has hired a college senior to be one of the top officials in its powerful Presidential Personnel Office, according to three administration officials familiar with the matter. James Bacon, 23, is acting as one of the right-hand men to new PPO director John McEntee, according to the officials.

The combination is striking. McEntee, who's only 29, used to be the president's personal assistant, as part of a job known as Trump's "body man." His career was cut short in 2018, when then-White House Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly fired McEntee -- by some accounts because he was facing a federal investigation over unspecified "serious financial crimes." The Wall Street Journal reported soon after on McEntee's alleged gambling issues, complicated by the apparent fact that he couldn't pass a background check.

Nevertheless, McEntee is now back at the White House, serving as the new director of the Office of Presidential Personnel, making him responsible for hiring and vetting applicants for thousands of executive-branch positions. McEntee also reportedly is playing a central role in a White House loyalty "purge," in which officials are subjected to political scrutiny and those deemed insufficiently pro-Trump face transfers or dismissals.

McEntee's new right-hand man is even younger: the 23-year-old James Bacon will apparently split his time between the White House, where he'll be the PPO's director of operations, and George Washington University, where he's working on getting his undergraduate degree.

On a personal note, I thought I'd mention that when I was 23, I went to grad school at GW, and coincidentally, I briefly interned at the White House's Office of Presidential Personnel.

The idea that I'd be invited to serve as the office's director of operations, making key personnel decisions alongside the office's director, would've seemed quite ridiculous to me at the time.