Trumps Cabinet Needs Stocking
President Donald Trump speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, June 15, 2017, during an event on Apprenticeship and Workforce of Tomorrow initiatives. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Nearly five months into his presidency, President Donald Trump celebrated the convening of his first full cabinet meeting last Monday. Yet with still more than 500 sub-cabinet positions requiring Senate confirmation, the entirety of Trump’s cabinet remains far from complete.
Mired in procedural delays prompted by committee Democrats and difficulties processing vetting paperwork from the Trump administration itself, Trump’s top cabinet positions were not completed until last month’s Senate confirmation of Robert Lightizer as U.S. Trade Representative.
While Trump has blamed much of the delays on obstructionism by Senate Democrats, his own delay in submitting nominations for Senate confirmation has played a significant role in determining the speed of the process.
According to the Partnership for Public Service, a non-profit and non-partisan organization based out of Washington D.C., the Trump administration has only had 42 of 558 key cabinet and sub-cabinet leadership positions confirmed. Of those 558, 419 continue to lack nominees.
“While the top cabinet positions are usually the positions that get the most attention, without leaders in place to lift-up the agencies throughout all levels of the cabinet it hinders the administration’s ability especially in the areas of disaster response, infrastructure and health care,” said Mallory Barg Bulman, the Partnership’s vice president of research and evaluation.
Included among these key sub-cabinet positions are deputy and assistant secretaries, chief financial advisors, general counsel, heads of agencies, ambassadors and other major leadership positions that are essential to the functioning of individual agencies and departments.
“Plainly, the President can’t run the federal government out of the White House and secretaries can’t run their agencies. It harms our ability to deal with crisis,” said John Wood, associate professor of political science at the University of Central Oklahoma.
While harmful to the operation of federal agencies, these vacancies also stand to negatively affect state governments by limiting or reducing the amount of support offered by the federal government.
As Oklahoma continues to struggle with its own budget crisis, federal sequestration’s impact on military funding presents the opportunity to compound the state’s problem if defense budget cuts end up affecting Tinker Air Force Base.
“When defense budgets are cut, civilian jobs disappear at Tinker Air Force Base, for example. This may not seem to be a major catastrophe, but every employed person spends money in the local community. So, staffing government agencies has a multiplier effect on the local economy, adding to the local tax base,” said Elizabeth Overman, associate professor of political science at UCO.
The ongoing federal sequestration does not stand to improve by vacancies within the Office of Management and Budget, which is responsible for overseeing all federal agency budgets.
“This puts more work on the existing staff and some services may have to lapse because there is no one to carry out the necessary implementation procedures,” Overman said. “When states like Oklahoma want to get federal agencies to aid in the provision of services that could enhance the lives of residents, federal agencies may not have the staff to meet the request.”
Another significant way that these absences stand to dramatically impact the Trump administration is in their ability to hinder the administration’s completion of key campaign promises.
As the administration works to implement major tax cuts, health care reform and infrastructure reform, vacant positions within the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Transportation can only serve to hinder these efforts.
“These vacancies profoundly affect the administration’s ability to deliver on Trump’s campaign promises,” said Bulman. “Without a relationship between the federal organizations and the administration, you don’t have the linkage to move forward with or implement these policies.”