A hollow administration?

Hundreds of top agency positions remain unfilled in the Trump administration, but maybe some should stay that way.

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After more than a year in office, the Trump administration is maintaining a very slow pace for filling top government jobs. The appointments tracker run by the Partnership for Public Service and the Washington Post shows that President Donald Trump is “months behind his predecessors in staffing up political leadership.”

Only 267 of 636 key Senate-approved positions had been filled as of mid-February — far fewer than the previous four presidents at this point in their presidencies. But let’s dig a little deeper and see what we might learn.

The State Department has the most openings — 65 positions. No other department is close to that number. Might this reflect the alleged tension between the White House and the secretary of State? Or policy and personnel tensions over who should fill key jobs? It’s a startling number of vacancies, and it would be good to understand the cause.

These departments face a better staffing picture: Justice (17 positions), Treasury (16), Energy (11) and Transportation (10). All other departments and agencies have vacancies in the single digits.

A good bit of attention has focused, as it should, on the open positions at the top of key agencies. Specifically, there are no permanent directors of the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; no undersecretary for health or benefits at the Department of Veterans Affairs; no director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House; and no commissioner for the Social Security Administration.

Equal weight should be given to the openings in the administration’s top management ranks, including chief financial officers, CIOs, chief operating officers, inspectors general and administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. I have counted at least 17 positions that would fall into that category, and a good number of them have a direct impact on the federal IT community.

There is, however, another side to the appointments/confirmation coin. I counted at least 60 openings on various boards, commissions, foundations, endowments, administrations and authorities. One would think I’d heard of everything after a 30-year career in government, but the roles and responsibilities of the International Joint Commission or the Northern Border Regional Commission stumped me. And should such positions be presidential appointments requiring Senate confirmation?

A similar issue of concern: Of the 65 State Department vacancies, 31 are ambassador positions and 11 are representatives to various international bodies, such as the United Nations and the European Union. Clearly, some are important and should be filled soon (e.g., the ambassadors for Egypt and South Korea). For others, the bigger deadline pressure might be that nominees risk being stuck here for the remainder of the winter season and miss out on the warmer weather in Jamaica or Trinidad and Tobago. As for Mongolia, I don’t know much about the best time of year to be there.

My point is not to demean or diminish any of the openings or vacancies. Instead, my argument is that we need to get more information to determine whether the government is suffering in any way because of the number of roles that have yet to be filled.

Finally, I encourage readers to take a look and suggest two or three positions that might better be dropped from the list of those that require Senate confirmation. I nominate the following: assistant secretary for economic development at the Commerce Department, director of the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity at the Energy Department and special counsel for immigration-related unfair employment practices at the Justice Department.

Your nominations are welcome!