Incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer says Donald Trump might sign four or five executive actions shortly after he’s sworn in on Friday — but it’s unclear who will be available to carry them out. While Spicer claimed on Wednesday that the Trump transition will become “the gold standard going forward,” others say the incoming administration is poorly prepared for the business of running the government, with many positions still vacant, disorganization among the teams that are in place, and confusion over contradictory messages from Trump and other top advisers. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” a career government official told Foreign Policy.
The Trump transition has been dogged by reports of chaos from the start. Much of the blame was put on Chris Christie, who was reportedly fired for mismanaging pre-election transition planning. (The governor has denied this, and suggested he’s not taking a White House role because his wife didn’t want to move.) Trump sources told Politico that while they got a late start, things are now going smoothly, with written action plans prepared for each major agency.
“There is a robust transition operation in place that is ensuring that all teams are prepared and ready for Day One,” said Trump spokeswoman Lindsay Walters. “We look forward to serving our great country.”
Yet Trump’s selection for the final member of his cabinet was just unveiled on Thursday, and many of his other picks spent the last few days in difficult confirmation hearings. CNN reports that Republicans in Congress are pressing Democrats to confirm a handful of Trump’s nominees after the swearing-in on Friday, but they’re resisting. The last two presidents had seven cabinet nominees confirmed on their first day in office.
Trump has only nominated 28 of the 690 federal government positions that require Senate confirmation, according to the Partnership for Public Service, which is advising the Trump transition, as it did for the Obama transition.
Foreign Policy reports that many top management and policy posts have yet to be filled, including those that oversee diplomacy, counterterrorism, and nuclear weapons. Some Defense Department positions have reportedly been left vacant due to a feud between Trump advisers and retired General James Mattis, incoming Defense Secretary.
Some Obama officials have been asked to stay on for a few weeks, and others are unclear on what their status will be after Friday. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, and if the transition team has a plan for maintaining continuity in key roles, they haven’t made that widely known,” a senior administration official told Foreign Policy.
The Trump transition has put together “landing teams” to visit agencies and collect information, but they’ve reportedly been plagued by miscommunication, both amongst themselves and with the Obama administration. Major decisions are made in New York, and sometimes D.C. Trump aides appear to be out of the loop. Sources said that in some departments, after one landing team was briefed, another showed up asking for the same information.
“The landing teams going into the federal agencies have been uneven,” Max Stier, the CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, told Politico. “Not all of the landing teams have had much connectivity with the agency.”
In other instances, Trump staffers have stepped down or been fired, such as Monica Crowley, who withdrew from a communications position at the National Security Council following revelations of plagiarism. “We’ve briefed at least 10 people, but they’ve all gotten fired by the transition after we trained them,” one Obama administration official told the Daily Beast.
Interactions between the Obama and Trump teams have been polite, and President Obama has said he wants the transition to be as smooth as possible. Yet there is said mistrust behind the scenes. The New York Times reports that the Obama administration wrote 275 briefing papers for Trump officials on national security threats around the world, but they have no idea if anyone read them. Trump officials are wary of sharing too much information after several transition documents leaked — including one in which the Department of Energy was asked to name employees who worked on climate change.
Still, transition sources insist that they’re ready to get down to business. “Beachhead” teams of aides who do not require Senate confirmation have been instructed to skip the inauguration and begin working as soon as Trump takes the oath at noon — though they may want to double-check that instruction. Earlier this week, Trump said his Day One “is gonna be Monday because I don’t want to be signing and get it mixed up with lots of celebration.”