More than two months into his term, President Donald Trump’s State Department and Pentagon remain without people in many important administrative and leadership positions.
In Foggy Bottom, where Trump ushered out several top officials on short notice after taking office, more than half of the positions on the department’s leadership chart are held by acting officials or are vacant, including the counselor to the secretary of state and the deputy secretary of state.
More than 30 senior positions dedicated to specific issues or conflicts are unfilled, according to The Huffington Post.
Those vacant roles include envoys for the Six Party Talks to address North Korea’s nuclear program, the Israel-Palestine conflict, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as for Muslim outreach, fighting anti-Semitism, and climate change.
The president has thus far largely relied on confidants and family members for diplomatic work.
His lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, and counselor son-in-law Jared Kushner have been tasked with the Israel-Palestine conflict. Kushner also accompanied Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford on a trip to Iraq and will reportedly be Trump’s liaison to China, Mexico, and the Muslim community.
Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, sat in on an early meeting with the Japanese prime minister and now has an office and advisory role in the White House.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — a former Exxon executive with no government experience — appears to be Trump’s only nominee for a senior position at the agency so far.
The Trump administration is reportedly considering eliminating a number of State Department positions, including several of the special envoy jobs and one of the department’s deputy secretary spots. The foreign aid budget has also been targeted for significant reductions.
Trump’s nominees for UN representative and ambassador to Israel have been confirmed, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has gotten nominations for four other ambassadorial positions, according to Huffington Post. But 57 countries — home to 3.9 billion people — remain without a US ambassador.
The State Department’s dearth of personnel is mirrored across the Potomac River.
Thus far, Secretary of Defence James Mattis is the only senior Pentagon official to be nominated and confirmed. There are 52 positions left to fill, and their absence has not gone unnoticed on Capitol Hill.
Members of the House Armed Services Committee sent a letter to the White House this week, urging Trump to fill specific Defence Department positions.
Arizona Republican John McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in March that he was concerned by the “incredibly slow” speed at which DoD positions were being filled.
Part of the hold up seems to be related to the rules covering Defence Department appointments.
Trump’s penchant for selecting the ultra-wealthy and senior business leaders has run afoul of rules mandating complete divestiture of business interests.
Trump’s focus on selecting nominees loyal to him has also slowed the process, and, in some cases, caused tension with Mattis.
“Early on a lot of names that were floated by the Trump folks were rejected by the Mattis folks. A lot of names that Mattis floated were rejected by the Trump folks,” a defence lobbyist told The Hill. “That really slowed things down and there’s a been lot of friction between the two.”
Mattis has seen some of Trump’s Pentagon picks to be “just utterly unqualified, they don’t have any background” in defence policy, a defence-industry consultant told The Hill.
Once leaders for the specific service branches were in place, however, the process should pick up, as “The Trump people are not going to have as much interest” in the appointments, the consultant told The Hill.
Those issues notwithstanding, Trump has offered nominees at a slower pace than his predecessor. By this point in his administration, Obama had dispatched 92 nominees to the Senate, getting 37 of them confirmed. Trump has offered only 43 nominees, with just 21 getting confirmed.
Trump’s budget reassessments and personnel issues are not limited to the State and Defence Departments, but Mattis, who helms the undermanned Pentagon, has stressed the joint role those agencies play in the US’s presence abroad.
“If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately,” Mattis told the National Security Advisory Council in 2013. “The more that we put into the State Department’s diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget.”
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