The president’s fine-tuned machine

Remember Donald Trump’s assertion during his 75-minute faux–news conference that his administration was running like a fine-tuned machine? Trump’s grandstanding that day was at such odds with the actual record of continuing vacancies at the senior levels of his administration that it’s almost laughable.

Opening up the hood on Trump’s “fine-tuned machine” reveals a frightening level of dysfunction at odds with the smooth transitions of previous administrations. (Take note of the quotation marks here. They’ve been included in the Trumpian manner just to add a touch of ambiguity as to whether the president will actually stand by the dictionary definition of fine-tuned or whether he might concoct some flimsy alternative definition in an upcoming Saturday morning tweet.)

What is a fine-tuned machine? It’s a description of a complex object in which all of the parts work together in a smooth and well-functioning manner. What about when essential parts are missing? Does the machine still function as intended? Will it start at all? And if it does kick on, will it sputter along and burn out when demand is too high? The question is: Will that kind of catastrophic burnout be the inevitable result when Trump’s understaffed and inexperienced machine is faced with the pressures of domestic or international crises?

Even with Trump’s repeated boasts, it certainly doesn’t look like he has all of the parts in place to justify his confidence. As of the beginning of this month, it’s been reported that there are more than 1,000 unfilled appointments that require senate confirmation, and hundreds of unfilled senior positions at agencies across the federal government.

This is what New York Times reporters Julie Hirschfeld and Sharon LaFraniere said, about the causes of this unprecedented sluggish pace of hiring, in a March 12, 2017 article, entitled “Trump Lets Key Offices Gather Dust Amid ‘Slowest Transition in Decades.”

Mr. Trump’s personnel problems are rooted in a dysfunctional transition effort that left him without a pool of nominees-in-waiting who had been screened for security and financial problems and were ready to be named on day 1.

The two reporters went on to observe that a lion’s share of the problem is Trump himself and a general unease with the direction of the administration itself:

 . . the problem has been compounded by roadblocks of his [Trump’s] own making: a loyalty ban that has discouraged some of the most sought-after potential appointees, a five-year lobbying ban that has discouraged some of the most sought-after potential appointees, and a general sense of upheaval at the White House that has repelled many others.

In an interview on FOX News, Trump hinted that he might not even bother to fill all of those vacant positions. Perhaps we should assume that the new president has spent countless weekend hours under the Mar-A-Lago sun studying the beltway parts manuals and structural flow charts of the federal bureaucracy. Perhaps he’s come to the conclusion that many, or most, of these senior-level positions are, as he says, “unnecessary. It’s people, over people, over people. I say, what do all those people do? You don’t need all those jobs.”

It makes you wonder. Which of the essential parts of a functioning government is Trump going to leave behind on the shop floor?

State Department

Deputy Secretary appointment: Unfilled

Undersecretary appointments:  6 unfilled

Treasury Department

Deputy Secretary: Unfilled

General Counsel: Unfilled

Chief Financial Officer: Unfilled

Undersecretaries: 3 unfilled

Assistant Secretaries: 9 unfilled

Homeland Security

Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement: Unfilled

Director of Customs and Border Protection: Unfilled

FEMA Director: Unfilled

TSA Administrator: Unfilled

Chief of Citizen and Immigration Services: Unfilled

Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection: Unfilled

Undersecretaries: 4 unfilled

Assistant Secretaries: 3 unfilled


Undersecretary for Policy appointment: Unfilled