Extremes of political theory often do not work in practice. We long ago realized laissez faire capitalism wasn’t practical in real-world applications. It only seems to work in Ayn Rand novels. Communism has been a classic fail. The extremism of anarchy is frightening. And, after over 35 years of Reganomics and the onset of the new tax codes, we finally realize supply side economics (trickle down or Voodoo economics according to George H.W. Bush) do nothing but leave a vast majority of wealth in the care and custody of the already rich.
Today, we are in the process of finding the long-standing Republican mantra of a small federal government (“small enough to drown in a bathtub” according to no-tax guru Grover Norquist), when put into practice, paralyzing.
After Donald Trump took office, he was charged with filling some 4,000 federal government appointments, 1,212 of which require Senate confirmation including Cabinet secretaries and deputies, heads of independent agencies, and ambassadors. Mr. Trump is taking a casual approach to this presidential duty. To date, 14 months into his administration, there are 256 senate-approved positions, more than one in five, that have no one named to them. There have been several nominees who were not qualified and therefore unconfirmable, a cache of temporary nominees who, after 300 days of service, had to step down with no one to take their place, and 30 White House assistants who cannot pass a background check to gain needed security clearance to do their jobs–including a senior adviser who may no longer help with the highly classified Presidential Daily Briefing.
Many Cabinet deputies remain vacant. The State Department is a skeleton. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has purposely left many positions unfilled and others (e.g. ambassadors to Panama and Mexico) are resigning. Both he and Mr. Trump deem them unnecessary. Mr. Trump goes so far as to dismiss them because policy decisions are his and his alone. That is a mistaken and frightening notion. The West Wing and the Old Executive Office Building provide tons of offices, and blocks and blocks of huge stone buildings are specifically designed to house full Cabinet staffs for the monumental purpose of having scores of learned and qualified people working diligently on the issues influencing government decision making. Diplomats abroad ply foreign policy and communicate between countries. Ambassadorships left empty are missing the intel that is afforded by having a U.S. sanctioned executive assess the climate and intent of foreign governments. Empty commissioner posts are leaving ever changing economic and trade developments uncharted.
Missing assistants and deputies in the Department of the Interior and Homeland Security are not on duty to respond to the next natural disaster. The director in charge of the National Census was fired due to budget shortfalls. The census is due to be taken in 2020 and is a huge administrative challenge taking years of planning and hiring staff to get the constitutionally required activity accomplished. No one is at the helm.
All of this by design. The Departments of Education, Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency are bare bones. The small government philosophy of the Republicans deems these agencies secondary at best and unnecessary in deed. The Secretary of Education never set foot in a public school until after her confirmation and has few deputies to advise her. The Secretary of Energy wanted mightily to profess his disdain for this agency, but was unable to recall the name in a debate, then was unaware that the nuclear arsenal was within his purview when he took over leadership. The budget director has been given double duty to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He asked for zero dollars in funding and is refocusing the mission statement to better protect the financial institutions the bureau was designed to monitor; ceding the formerly governmental job of protecting consumers from financial sharks to the sharks themselves.
Add to this a White House staff that has installed a revolving door (from Trump Tower?) leading in and out of the building. More than 30 high-level White House staff have been either fired or resigned. I’m not trying to lump the fired or resigned into one category. It is simply impossible to tell why these people are leaving the White House staff due to the lack of accurate communication being delivered to the public. The range of reasons span pleading guilty to federal crimes, indictments, lying to either the president or the public, not showing enough loyalty, or simply wanting out of the constant turmoil created by not having enough staff to keep egregious failures from being an everyday occurrence.
Mr. Trump promised the “best people” were going to fill these slots, but so far, has failed to land more than a handful of highly qualified people to run the Executive Branch of government. Trenchant appointees are turning down the opportunity to serve in record numbers. Mr. Trump has left far too many positions either vacant or staffed with folks who have no experience in the positions they hold. The West Wing is ineffective.
Questions regarding this paralysis are whisk away with the idea that big government is harmful to U.S. ideals. However, the small government mantra is being proven to leave important national issues slipping through the cracks and no new or innovative ideas coming forth to move our country forward.