Trump transition the slowest in decades

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The Trump administration is appointing Senate-confirmed positions, including those critical to national security, at a historically slow pace, according to experts tracking the effort to staff up the government.

Terry Sullivan, executive director of the nonpartisan White House Transition Project, characterized the progress as "slow -- in every dimension."

His organization, which also coordinates with government agencies and independent groups such as the Partnership for Public Service and the National Academy of Public Administration, has tracked presidential appointments made by each administration since Bill Clinton's.

Compared to his predecessors, Trump's administration is "way behind," said Sullivan, adding, "we're not holding Trump to some standard no one else has been held to."

Of the 970 total Senate-confirmed political appointments President Donald Trump can make, only 45 have even been nominated. The average for Trump’s three most recent predecessors at this point in their administrations was 95.

When it comes to filling the 221 "most important" appointments, which include critical national security posts, past administrations have taken about 18 months, a pace Sullivan laments as taking "too long" at the expense of efficient government.

But the Trump administration is over 50 percent behind even that pace. At its current pace, filling the 221 positions would take the Trump administration about three years, "which would mean they'd be in the election cycle before they stood up their government," Sullivan said.

In February, Trump told Fox and Friends, "in many cases" that he's deliberately not making some appointments in the name of "running a very good, efficient government."

Sullivan acknowledged that "there is something to be said" for snubbing some of the 970 Senate-confirmed positions to shrink government, but he made clear that filling the most important posts is necessary for the federal government to carry out its constitutional responsibilities.

"You could have a strategy that says, 'I'm completely anti-government, anti-federal government, so I'm not interested in filling out the positions,'" he said. "There can be differences about the 970, but the 221 are critical to leadership ... and for those 221, they're not doing any better than they are [for] the 970."

It's not just the official appointment process that's taking longer than usual. The Trump administration is taking about "10 days longer than average to complete the review process before sending a nominee to the Senate," according to an appointments tracker on the White House Transition Project website.

According to NAPA, the average length of time between nomination and confirmation by the Senate from 2009 to 2014 was 127 days. Even with that long average interim, "by now, Obama had confirmed more than the total that Trump has nominated," according to the White House Transition Project.

Sullivan said that such a slow pace has a real impact on effective governance, adding, "one really big impact is crisis management."

When presidents have people in place to carry out their agenda, "they're much more likely to get their agenda through," he said. The Trump administration is "not getting positioned people in who can help them with their agenda."

Sullivan said he was not sure why the Trump White House is taking so much longer, but he offered two possibilities.

"For one, they have far fewer applicants" for positions in the administration than Obama or Bush had, he said. "Another possibility is that it's much harder for those who have only experience in business to understand how complex the federal government is."

The Senate, Sullivan said, has not helped matters. The Senate is taking "around 11 days longer than average to complete its own review" and confirm appointees, according to the tracker.

But as far as Trump's blaming Democrats for slow-walking his appointees, Sullivan does not think that argument holds much water.

"It's the same thing Obama said about blocking," he said. "The reality is [the Republicans] are in the majority. They have enough votes to win. It can't hardly be the Democrats blocking."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter


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