The White House’s search for a new director of the FBI has dragged on longer than expected but that is far from the only position that is still unfilled nearly six months into the administration of Donald Trump.
Trump’s efforts to recruit high-level talent for top jobs is moving at a far slower pace than either President George W. Bush or Barrack Obama, according to an analysis by Politico.
A senior Republican official, former chairman Michael Steele, told the Hill why nobody wants to work for “crazy” Trump:
“The talent pool is shrinking, because who wants to sign up for crazy? Nobody wants to step into a situation where you’re flying by the seat of your pants and don’t know whether what you just said will hold up from one news cycle to the next. Nobody is going to be lining up for positions with that much uncertainty.”
So far the White House has put forward only 117 nominees for the most important 559 positions which require approval by the U.S. Senate, according to the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. Bush and Obama had nominated twice as many people by the same point in the first year of their administrations.
That includes dozens of unfilled jobs not just at the White House, but also across a broad range of agencies including Agriculture, Education, Environmental Protection and Veterans Affairs.
The pace was already slow before May 17 but it has gotten much worse since then. That was the day the Department of Justice appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as the Special Counsel to look into the Trump campaign ties to the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
A Washington lawyer who represents potential appointees said three of his clients have said in the last two weeks they are no longer interested in working for the Trump administration since the Mueller appointment.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that people are being very cautious, to put it mildly,” the lawyer told Politico. “You’re going to have a situation where they’re going to have trouble getting A-list or even B-list people to sign up.”
The lawyer added that if other of the administration’s top picks drop out, the caliber of the hires could deteriorate even more quickly. That is a real concern, he said, among Republicans.
A number of high profile people who were rumored to be under consideration, or in some cases had been announced, have withdrawn from consideration. That includes high level picks for the FBI Directorship including Senator John Cornyn (R-Tx), Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and former Sen. Joe Lieberman.
Nominees that were announced for high-level positions in both the Commerce Department and Treasury have dropped out before the Senate could get around to confirming them.
A White House official told Politico that Trump and his senior team know that they are not moving fast enough to complete hiring at the agencies, but added that right now, “It’s just not priority number one.”
“With all that is going on now,” said a former government official who regularly communicates with Trump’s cabinet secretaries, “there is certainly a greater amount of hesitation. They have a real talent problem that continues to grow.”
The growing number of federal and state investigations is a distraction for the administration and a reason for potential candidates to be wary.
“It’s an additional factor that makes what was an already complicated process of staffing the government even harder,” Max Stier, head of the Partnership for Public Service, which advises the Trump administration, told Politico.
The official White House spokesperson denied there is any problem but “the steady stream of palace intrigue stories about internal tensions and plans for a staff shakeup – after months of rumors about various senior officials getting pushed out – are making it harder to persuade people to join the administration,” another White Hosue official told Politico.
Even when candidates are available, said another White Hosue official, it is hard to focus on hiring when there is so much else to be concerned about.
The Trump administration’s talent recruitment problems are only to get worse in coming weeks as the various Russia related investigations play out; and that will be compounded by the unpredictable nature of the president, who seems to change his mind frequently and has a record of not backing up his own staff at times, as happened after the stories about Comey’ firing changed daily for a week.
The president is his own worst enemy and that is already destructive for the American people, and now it is turning out to be a problem even getting good people to work for and around him.
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