It’s no secret that the pace of hiring for top-level non-Cabinet positions in the “fine-tuned machine” that is the Donald Trump administration is glacial. Trump and his supporters like to blame the inactivity on Democratic slow-walking of Senate confirmations. The truth is you cannot obstruct nominations that have not yet been made, which is the situation with the vast majority of the 549 Senate-confirmed positions, most of which have not been filled — not to mention the thousands of other essential jobs that do not require Senate approval.
Politico today casts some light on the problem in a long piece on disputes between the White House and Cabinet members over personnel issues. It seems the principle of letting Trump’s top appointees choose their own “teams” extends only so far as the universe of people who have never in any way disrespected the Boss or otherwise annoyed the people now running the White House. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and HUD Secretary Ben Carson are all cited as officials who have had top proposed appointees vetoed by the White House. It seems to be a systemic problem.
Heavily involved in the hiring process has been White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who has told allies he wants his people across the administration, both in the West Wing and the federal agencies. The White House has even signed off on low-level hires at times.
But White House interference goes deeper than sign-offs from on high, as this intriguing passage indicates:
The White House has created a new position, called senior White House adviser, atop agencies and in many cases installed top campaign aides in those spots.
“A lot of these special advisers are overwhelmed, because they have very little relevant issue area expertise and are sometimes way out of their depth,” one person involved in Trump’s administration said.
For example, Sam Clovis, who led Trump’s national campaign for some time, is the adviser at the Agriculture Department. Wells Griffith, another former campaign official, is at the Energy Department. Several other Trump campaign aides are now in these positions, and they frequently meet with political appointees and the White House.
What Politico is describing is a system of embedding in agencies people whose loyalties are to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, not to the leadership of the institutions where they work. People like that can be described as political commissars, to use the term made famous in the Soviet Union for the agents sent to impose ideological discipline, particularly in military units. The practice by no means proves authoritarian leanings in Trump World, but it is safe to say it is consistent with an approach to government that values power more than performance. For sure, it slows the fine-tuned machine down to a crawl.