Let's Fix This Country
governing

The Government Shutdown of a Different Sort

There are about 2 million people employed by the federal government so it may not seem all that important that a comparatively small number of posts sit empty. But these are the jobs of key personnel, some 1200 top jobs that call for presidential
nomination and Senate confirmation. Of those The Washington Post tracks 630 that are thought to be the most important. More than a year into the Trump presidency, 240 of those positions didn't even have a nominee by early February. Another 140 have been nominated but await confirmation. There was a change in the law a year ago, meant to give an incoming administration time to find people to fill slots, that allowed temporary acting replacements to step in — but only for 300 days. That limit has lapsed, leaving swaths of the government without the office holders authorized to make decisions for their agencies and departments.

"We don’t need all the people that they want. You know, don’t forget, I’m a businessperson. I tell my people, when you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them"

That is what the president has to say. In business that's true of the lower echelons of workers, but not those who are there to lead their organizations.

There is no one in the top job at the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration nor anyone to head its legal, financial or enforcement divisions. At the Agriculture Department the office overseeing national food safely is empty. So are top slots at the Pentagon. No one has been nominated to run the National Park Service, the Social Security Administration, nor the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The president wants to ramp up nuclear weapons capability but several key nuclear oversight jobs are unfilled at the Energy Department which oversees both nuclear power and weapons. The president — in his state of the union address and earlier — has spoken of overcoming the opioid crisis, but there is no director even inside the White House at its Drug Control Office. No director of the White House Office of Science and Technology policy to serve as the adviser to the president, either. And soon to become most worrisome of all: with 2020 looming, there's no one in the top two spots at the Census Bureau, on whose work a decade of elections will depend.

At the agencies, as we reported a while back, Scott Pruitt wants to cut the Environmental Protection Agency by 21%. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is slashing his department by almost a third. The president has yet to fill half a dozen ambassadorships in the Middle East, including to the major powers Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. With the looming threat of North Korea, and now the Winter Olympics in full swing, there isn't even an ambassador to South Korea, a lack of on-scene guidance that perhaps explains the vice president's ill-advised snubs while attending the opening ceremonies.

As for those working at lower levels of the government, many have left. About 700 had left the EPA by the end of last year. Nearly all members of the National Park Service's advisory panel resigned in frustration. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had "refused to meet with them or convene a single meeting last year", said The Washington Post. Overall, the Trump administration saw a 34% departure rate during his first year — the highest turnover in 40 years.

The Post is not singling out the Trump administration exceptionally for scorn. They keep track at this site where, as can be seen in this table, they have kept score for four other presidents:

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