Far from just being behind in its paperwork, Trump says, his administration wants to pass up the chance to appoint the people who largely run federal agencies.
In another illustration of what President Trump thinks of as a “fine-tuned machine,” he defended his failure to move faster on filling the hundreds of top-level administration jobs that require Senate confirmation by suggesting he plans to keep them unfilled for the duration. Here’s what he said to Fox News this morning:
“A lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint someone because they’re unnecessary to have,” Trump said. “In government, we have too many people.”
Keep in mind the jobs we are talking about here include the top sub-Cabinet positions that set policies and provide the day-to-day operations for vast government departments. Just yesterday, the conservative Washington Examiner explained that these are precisely the positions someone like Trump needs to fill if he is serious about “draining the swamp” in Washington:
Grant Reeher, a political science professor at Syracuse University, said the quality of political appointees below the Cabinet level can have a dramatic effect on how administration policies are ultimately executed.
“Do they affect the operation of government? The short answer is very much,” Reeher said. “These are the folks who actually attempt to implement the policy changes that the administration is trying to push down from above.”
Reeher said the relationships between politically appointed officials in top positions and the career bureaucrats who make up the rest of the federal government are “critical” for ensuring policies get put in place smoothly.
So using these top positions to achieve reductions in the size of the bureaucracy, as Trump seems to suggest is his rationale, is a pretty classic unforced error. It’s like trying to reduce overcrowding in schools by firing most of the teachers.
One might be tempted to think the president misspoke out of a desire to avoid admitting his team hasn’t gotten its act together just yet. Earlier he tried to blame the slow pace of appointments on Senate Democrats obstructing confirmations, before it was pointed out how few nominations had been made in the first place.
But Trump seems serious about this claim that he wants empty offices all across the top tier of his administration. So we can only hope his Cabinet secretaries don’t mind working nights and weekends, to make up for the lack of help — or significantly scaling back their plans.