“When they talk about putting people in, there are so many jobs in Washington.
We don’t want so many jobs. You don’t need all of those people.”
At the end of Trump’s first 100 days, only 27 of 556 political appointments had been confirmed, as compared with 69 for former President Barack Obama and 35 for former President George W. Bush.
If blame is appropriate, there’s plenty of it to go around.
The administration blames Democrats for slow-rolling nominees. But Democrats and some Republicans counter that the White House isn’t sending names quickly enough.
And a handful of nominees have taken themselves out of contention, mostly because of their various business interests.
Since the president likes hiring business leaders, that’s proving no small problem.
The lack of confirmed appointees means agencies are severely limited in the scope of their policy action, whether it’s enacting changes made by Congress or following through on dozens of executive orders Trump has signed.
Let’s look at all the things the new administration can’t do and won’t be able to do until it gets those top jobs filled.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has a severe shortage of political appointees at Foggy Bottom and pressure is building to fill vacancies.
“My sense is the big things are getting done,” said the Heritage Foundation’s James Jay Carafano, who handled State Department issues on Trump’s transition team, “[but] you can’t sustain this much longer.
“Tillerson, along with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, is one of two political appointees at the State Department to receive Senate confirmation.
That’s not even a skeleton crew for a geopolitical moment that Russia believes inaugurates a “post-West world order” and in which China seeks to dominate the western Pacific, North Korea’s rogue regime is accelerating its quest for nuclear weapons, and terrorist threats in Africa and the Middle East threaten to spark refugee crises.
Tillerson, who led Exxon Mobil before joining the Trump team, has addressed these crises with diplomatic meetings, supported by career professionals.
Carafano gave them high marks for helping Tillerson with top-tier agenda items. “They pretty much did a complete North Korea review in, basically, less than a week on North Korea policy,” he said. Analyses of policy toward the Islamic State and Afghanistan are also underway.
Career officials are playing this major role for political and substantive reasons. Trump vetoed Tillerson’s first choice of deputy secretary of State because he criticized Trump during the campaign. Tillerson, for his part, is choosing his team methodically while developing a plan to reorganize State and reportedly cut 2,300 jobs.
“If the secretary is holding up because he wants a clear idea of how he wants the department structured, I’m OK with that,” Carafano said. “He’s got a department that he’s probably going to be running for at least four years, and people are policy, and it’s a lot easier to get it right at the start.”
If that takes too long, however, then foreign policy issues that are important but not urgent could fall through the cracks or be decided without the traditional degree of State Department input. “The State Department view is not being expressed in a lot of rooms where policy is actually being created,” as one senior Senate Republican aide put it.
Carafano concurred that the current team doesn’t have the bandwidth to address the full spectrum of U.S. foreign policy issues.
Trump’s administration did little to take advantage of American chairmanship of the Arctic Council before handing the post to Finland, Carafano observed, a missed opportunity at a time when Russia is conducting a military buildup in the region.
And “there’s any number of international meetings coming up,” such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in November, that will require the attention of a broader team of political leaders at the State Department.
“They are going to get to the point here where the lack of depth to work the breadth of policy issues is catching up to them,” Carafano said. “By the time the summer’s rolling around, they’ve got to be bringing more people in.”
The Department of Defense is unique among federal agencies in that it alone has an entirely parallel workforce that does not change with administrations, namely the armed forces.
So the Pentagon can function with few or no political appointees in place, which is a good thing, considering that only one of the 53 Pentagon political appointees that require Senate confirmation is in place so far, and that is Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Nine others have been nominated.
The Pentagon actually has two civilian leaders requiring confirmation, Mattis and Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, a Obama administration holdover who has agreed to stay on until his successor is confirmed. Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan has been nominated for the job.
So with 52 positions vacant, only the biggest, most pressing needs are getting the full attention of the secretary.
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“The fact that you don’t have most of the civilians in place gives the military a tremendous amount of influence over the policies that get decided,” Bensahel said. Take, for example, the new Islamic State strategy ordered by Trump, which is shaping up to look a lot like the old strategy or working “by, through and with” partner forces in Iraq and Syria.
That reflects current military thinking, and there are no civilians to push for changes, aside from Mattis, a retired Marine general.
“Those who are in acting positions don’t have the authority to take bold new changes in direction. Mostly they are in caretaker status to make sure everything functions, but they are not empowered to make big policy decisions,” Bensahel said.
Mattis has been able to quickly assemble a support staff made up of Senior Executive Service hires, who do not require Senate approval, and he has initiated a number of policy reviews, including one that updates nuclear strategy and another that looks at whether the Navy should buy more Boeing F/A-18s and fewer Lockheed Martin F-35s.
One thing that is definitely not happening at the Pentagon is that no top civilians are meeting with their counterparts in other government agencies, such as the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
Then again, even if all the Pentagon jobs were filled, those other agencies currently have no one to meet with them. All the other agencies have empty offices, too.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is aiming for 3 percent economic growth and now has to try to reach that goal single-handedly: He is the only Senate-confirmed official at the Treasury.
The centerpiece of that goal, according to Mnuchin, is reform of the tax code.
This is already in motion. Working with National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, Mnuchin in late April rushed out a set of principles that included lowering the corporate tax rate to 15 percent.
Getting reform of the tax code into law before the end of the year, as Congress and Mnuchin want, will be difficult. It would be easier if an assistant secretary for tax policy were in place, former treasury officials say.
But it is possible to get it done without, they add. The biggest obstacle is not the lack of personnel but rather the congressional schedule. The delayed repeal and replacement of Obamacare has slowed the process.
Meanwhile, Treasury has begun reversing one of Obama’s last tax regulations, which is meant to stop U.S. companies avoiding taxes by merging with firms in low-tax countries and then placing the headquarters of the combined company in that low-tax jurisdiction.
In April, Trump made his first visit to the Treasury and signed an executive order requiring the department to identify and ease tax burdens created in 2016. Businesses saw that as a sign of the administration’s intentions to revisit the tax regulation.
Mnuchin also aims to boost economic growth through what he calls “regulatory relief.” Trump has repeatedly boasted that his administration will “do a number” on the 2010 Dodd-Frank law. So far, there is little legislative effort, although Mnuchin regularly meets senior Republicans on the banking committees to strategize. House Republicans have introduced a comprehensive conservative plan for reorganizing bank regulation, but Mnuchin reacted lukewarmly.
A former banker himself, Mnuchin has indicated that overhauling the bailed-out mortgage enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is a special concern of his. So far, though, he hasn’t made his specific intentions known.
The department is working toward fulfilling several executive orders from Trump. One requires a review of all financial regulation with the purpose of reporting on ways to ease burdensome rules and prevent bailouts, a fairly open-ended mandate.
More recently, Trump signed memos relating to two provisions of Dodd-Frank that Republicans have long hoped to change. One is the Financial Stability Oversight Council, the supergroup of regulators who decide if a firm poses a potential threat to the system that must be regulated like a megabank. The other is a new government authority to take over failing banks and manage the process of paying creditors to avoid crises. Conservatives view both the council and the bank resolution authority as government overreach.
Secretary Wilbur Ross said at his confirmation hearing in January that “the first thing” on his to-do list was to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The administration started slowly and carefully, sending letters to Congress seeking input and initiating discussions with Canada and Mexico. The careful approach was derailed on April 26 when Trump abruptly decided to draft an executive order pulling the U.S. out of the agreement.
By all accounts, Ross was a key administration figure urging Trump to back down, which he did the following day. Personal appeals from the Mexican president and Canadian prime minister also played a part.
The president later said pulling out of the trade agreement would create too much of a “shock to the system.”
The White House is still seeking concessions from Canada and Mexico and has not ruled out withdrawal in the future, but the flip-flop probably weakened Washington’s leverage by showing it’s not actually willing to walk away from the agreement.
During the campaign, Trump proposed a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports, but after his election victory he changed that to a 10 percent tariff across the board for all foreign countries. It has hardly been discussed since.
On April 18, Ross launched an investigation into whether steel imports “dumped” from countries such as China were hurting national security. He vowed to “conduct this investigation thoroughly and expeditiously.” The probe, however, followed a Treasury Department declaration in April that China is not manipulating its currency.
The department also in mid-April postponed a decision on anti-dumping duties on Canadian softwood lumber until June 23. The decision, originally set for May 4, was extended so that the administration could have “sufficient time to gather and review all the relevant information.”
The Department of Commerce has filled just two of 21 positions. Positions still vacant include deputy secretary, chief counsel and chief financial officer. In 2001, the Senate had confirmed six of the 24 positions at this point. In 2009, the Senate had confirmed nine of the 22 positions at this point.
Secretary Alexander Acosta is likely still learning where the bathrooms are at his department.
The Senate confirmed him only on April 27, more than two months after he was nominated, making him the last Cabinet member to take office.
Among the first things, he will have to address is whether to fight for the department’s rule made last year that vastly expanded the number of people covered by federal overtime rules.
The department raised the minimum salary level for being exempted from the rule to $47,000 annually, up from $23,000.
Business groups opposed the move, and a Texas district court issued a nationwide injunction against the rule late last year.
The government has appealed the order, but on April 14 it asked the court to extend the deadline for filing its brief to June 30, which suggested it wanted to give the incoming secretary time to weigh in.
Acosta might scale the rule back.
When asked by Senate lawmakers during confirmation hearings whether he would defend the rule in court, Acosta responded by questioning whether the Department of Labor even has the authority to set the salary threshold that high. He did, however, say that the rule needed to be updated.
Trump put another Obama Labor regulation, which has been dubbed the “fiduciary rule,” on hold in February. The rule, which was set to take effect on April 10, legally requires financial advisers to act in their clients’ best interests. It was intended to prevent conflicts of interest but has been widely criticized by the financial industry as an overreach.
Trump directed the department “to determine whether [the rule] may adversely affect the ability of Americans to gain access to retirement information and financial advice.” The rule’s implementation has been delayed until June 9.
Acosta refused to answer questions from Senate Democrats about whether he would seek to uphold it, citing the ongoing review.
The new secretary must also decide whether to try to revive the Labor Department’s “persuader rule,” which forced lawyers to publicly divulge whenever they were hired by businesses to advise on labor issues. Previously, lawyers had to divulge the contracts only if they spoke directly with workers.
The Obama administration expanded it to include just giving advice to employers, a move widely expected to cause many lawyers to stop offering the advice. A Texas court declared in December that the rule was unconstitutional, and the department has appealed.
Finally, Acosta will have to weigh in on the Obama administration’s new, stricter regulations for exposure to crystalline silica, minute, glass-like particles that can cause serious harm if inhaled. Silica is often found at quarries or construction projects.
Originally scheduled to take effect on June 23, its implementation has been delayed by the Trump administration until Sept 23.
It said that it needed “to conduct additional outreach and provide educational materials and guidance for employers.” Acosta again declined to weigh in on the rule during his confirmation hearing.
One thing Acosta won’t have to weigh in on is the Obama administration’s contractor “blacklisting” rule. Trump signed a Congressional Review Act in March that rolled back the 2015 Obama administration rule that forced bidders on federal contracts to disclose whether they had ever been charged with labor violations, even if the complaint was still pending in court.
Business groups said it was a sop to labor since it could allow a union to undermine a company’s chances at winning a bid just by filing a complaint.
Acosta’s is the only one of the 14 appointed positions that is filled. By this point in 2009, the Senate had confirmed five of the 14 positions. By this point in 2001, the Senate had confirmed four of 17 positions.
The Energy Department didn’t suffer as many cuts as the Environmental Protection Agency did in Trump’s proposed budget blueprint, but it’s still on track to gut most of its big clean-energy programs, while stoking new efforts to build the Nevada nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain.
If Yucca Mountain is a priority, one would think that Trump wants to appoint someone to serve as assistant secretary for the nuclear energy office. But no such candidate has been appointed so far.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry has made a new grid study a priority, issuing a memo last month that calls on the electric reliability office to assess the state of power plant longevity in the nation. But again, no one has been named to run that office.
Trump has touted saving the coal industry by building advanced “clean coal” power plants, but the Energy Department office of fossil energy has no one to lead it either.
The Energy Department’s energy analysis arm has no new administrator, nor does the Energy Information Administration, which would be a valuable resource in conducting Perry’s grid study.
Trump did manage to appoint Perry a lieutenant, last month nominating as deputy secretary of energy Dan Brouillette, who has been referred to the Senate Energy Committee. Brouillette has not been confirmed yet.
But even more pressing for the energy industry is Trump’s lack of direction for the nation’s lead energy watchdog, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has seen its five-member panel reduced to just two, which forced it to shut down under emergency orders by the chairman.
FERC is an independent agency, just like the Energy Information Administration, but it is technically part of the Energy Department.
The commission oversees the interstate transportation of natural gas and the large wholesale electric markets that the nation relies on to keep the lights on. It also sites pipeline development to move shale natural gas to market and approves energy export facilities.
But under the law, it cannot make decisions or address conflicts without at least three commissioners present. It will be down to just one commissioner after June.
Despite endless pleading to stand up the agency by the natural gas and pipeline industry, which Trump supports, the president has not made any nominations to resurrect the commission. He will need FERC to meet both his energy and infrastructure development goals.
Environmental Protection Agency
The attitude of the administration when it comes to the EPA is about tearing down rather than building up. So, it’s sort of a exceptional case when it comes Trump’s agenda.
Nevertheless, one of the key positions that Trump hasn’t announced is the assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. The air office will be key to dismantling the agency’s climate regulations, which were put in the crosshairs by Trump’s March 28 Executive Order on Energy Independence.
The air office under former President Obama was responsible for the Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of his climate change agenda, which the Trump order seeks to dismantle.
Even though Scott Pruitt, Trump’s EPA head, led a major lawsuit against the plan when he was attorney general of Oklahoma, he still requires the regulatory expertise and leadership of the air office to implement Trump’s order.
Gina McCarthy was air chief at the agency under Obama until she was nominated and confirmed to head the agency.
On top of that, the president hasn’t appointed a chief counsel for the agency and its offices. Top counsels at the agency had served valuable roles under the previous administration, especially when it came to the air office.
Joe Goffman, who was chief counsel, also held the rank of associate assistant administrator for climate. He was in charge of overseeing climate change regulations as they were being developed and finalized through the Office of Management and Budget review process.
Under Trump, the policy priority is to roll back the climate rules, yet it’s not clear if Pruitt will choose someone to shuttle through the Clean Power Plan review process. The agency is directed under the March order to review the greenhouse gas reduction plan, with the ultimate goal of rescinding the regulation. Other associated regulations will get similar treatment.
The EPA assistant administrator for water is also a post Trump still needs to nominate someone to fill, one that should be important in overseeing the repeal of the Waters of the U.S. rule. Trump also issued an executive order to deal with this contentious regulation, which expanded EPA’s jurisdiction in ways that critics said would curtail development and encroach on private lands owned by farmers and ranchers. No nominee has been named for the water office.
The assistant administrator for solid waste and emergency response is another post that would be important for Trump to fill. It oversaw the EPA’s response during the Gold King Mine disaster in August of 2015. Trump even commented on the spill during his campaign as news broadcasts showed images of the Animas River in Colorado stained orange due to 3 million gallons of toxic sludge that an EPA contractor played a role in releasing. The GOP pushed for new oversight and prodded the administration for nearly two years for a senior EPA official to be fired due to the spill. One of Pruitt’s first actions as EPA chief was to send money to states affected by the spill.
Health and Human Services
Health and Human Services got off to a slow start in part because of the time it took to confirm former Georgia Rep. Tom Price to serve as secretary.
Price was confirmed on Feb. 10 after being nominated at the end of November.
However, since his confirmation, Price has moved quickly to delay controversial Obama-era HHS regulations from taking effect, and he took a prominent role in the effort to repeal Obamacare.
Other top posts have seen similar delays, as Seema Verma was confirmed as head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in March.
But a lot of the attention on Price has not been about how he would handle Obamacare but rather how he would help dismantle it.
GOP leadership has said HHS will play a major part in rolling back Obamacare regulations that can’t be addressed in a partial-repeal bill.
There are still major decisions that Price has yet to make that deal with Obamacare. For instance, even though he and Verma told states there will be more flexibility in changing Medicaid, HHS hasn’t renewed an application for the Medicaid expansion from Indiana and several other states.
Verma helped put together Indiana’s Medicaid program that was created under former governor and now Vice President Mike Pence.
Meanwhile, several HHS agencies are delaying controversial regulations from taking effect. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration delayed implementing a new menu-labeling rule created under Obamacare, a decision Price praised. The FDA also announced last week it would delay implementing any regulations on oversight of electronic cigarettes.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also delayed a payment reform change in Medicare for joint replacements and heart issues. The delay comes after Price was a major critic of the reforms while he was a member of Congress.
Candidate Trump spoke often about his plans to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs, vowing to hold employees accountable and promising to give veterans more options for care.
After being elected, he reportedly struggled to find someone to fill the top spot as secretary for the VA, but ultimately surprised many when he picked David Shulkin, an Obama-era appointee.
He recently signed an executive order creating an accountability office and signed into law the Veterans Choice Improvement Act, extending a program that allows veterans to seek care from private doctors. Critics have said they worry that the government was taking a step toward privatizing care, but Shulkin has said that will not happen and that the administration is instead taking an “integrated” approach.
Trump also has defended his work on the VA, calling it “one of our crown jewels,” saying that his administration collected “a team the likes of which have never been assembled.”
But 12 of the top spots in the VA are being operated by acting officials, as the 360,000-person agency struggles with management challenges. Reviews of the department have exposed systemic waiting list fraud that resulted in patient deaths, a scandal that was brought to light three years ago and continues to plague the agency. Medical centers also are weighed down by opioid theft and drug misuse by employees. While some veterans groups have praised Trump, they also say much more needs to be done.
Trump has pressed the Senate to pass the VA Accountability First Act, which would allow leaders to more easily fire VA employees who have engaged in misconduct. Though the bill also has the support of Shulkin, a vote has not been scheduled.
A “major meeting” Trump promised on veterans affairs with his advisory board in March also was delayed. Like many agencies, the VA faced a hiring freeze for a few months, and though the freeze has been lifted, applicants must undergo thorough review, which must have high-level approval.
Advocates have also raised issues with the medical records-keeping system, VistA, which they say is in dire need of innovation.
Under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Department of Justice is working toward keeping the campaign promises of President Trump. However, Sessions is doing all of this without a real team in place. His No. 2, Rod Rosenstein, was only just recently confirmed, and Rachel Brand’s nomination to be the associate attorney general is stalled in the Senate.
The nation’s top law enforcement officer is working to tackle immigration, reiterated the federal government’s backing and support of law enforcement and has taken steps to crack down on crime and bolster public safety.
Sessions has also pulled back two Obama era memos: one that directed schools to allow transgender students access to the bathroom facility corresponding with their gender identity and another that sought to sever contracts between the federal government and private prison companies.
Sessions has reiterated in numerous speeches that now “this is the Trump era.”
“Attorney General Sessions is putting our priorities into action,” Trump said in a recent address to the National Rifle Association. “He’s going after the drug dealers who are peddling their poison all over our streets and destroying our youth. He’s going after the gang members who threaten our children. And he’s boldly enforcing our immigration laws in all 50 states. And you know what? It’s about time.”
But Sessions has faced setbacks. After he publicly said his department would not enter into any consent decrees, federal judges approved one to reform the Baltimore Police Department. A different federal judge then said the Trump administration cannot withhold funds from sanctuary jurisdictions on the basis that they do not cooperate with immigration laws.
Sessions appears to be accomplishing more than any other agency head, despite minor setbacks and despite a thin team. In March, Sessions asked for the resignations of 46 politically appointed U.S. attorneys held over from the Obama administration. An additional 47 had already stepped aside, leaving 93 U.S. attorney spots — i.e., the top federal prosecutors in 94 districts — open.
These are the U.S. attorneys who would be carrying out much of Sessions’ policy directions, including more strongly prosecuting illegal immigrants. There have been no nominations for replacements, but even so, those would have to be confirmed by the Senate.
For now, investigations and prosecutions are being conducted by career prosecutors in Sessions’ office.
One of Trump’s main campaign promises was spending $1 trillion on updating America’s infrastructure. While it remains one of the most popular promises of Trump’s presidency, Washington still has no real idea what the plan might look like or when exactly it’s going to come.
Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao has repeatedly said, as recently as last week, the plan could come from the administration during May. But Chao’s department has been hampered in its ability to contribute to the formulation of the plan due to the lack of political appointees confirmed to the department.
Chao is the only political appointee confirmed by the Senate, and Jeffrey Rosen has been nominated as her deputy secretary. Trump has announced he will nominate Derek Kan as his undersecretary for transportation policy, but that nomination has not been submitted to the Senate.
That leaves 15 other political appointee positions with no nominee.
With so many political appointee positions left open, the White House has taken the lead on formulating infrastructure policy and coming up with the details for Trump’s proposal. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and D.J. Gribbin, special assistant to the president for infrastructure, are the main catalysts for Trump’s infrastructure agenda, according to multiple sources.
Chao and Cohn have worked closely together, appearing at a White House event in March to promote their infrastructure agenda, but it’s not clear what role she’s played in formulating the bill. The department declined to respond to a previous Washington Examiner request to talk about the role the department is playing in implementing Trump’s agenda, and a Republican congressional aide said staffing her agency is taking up most of Chao’s time.
The department’s normal work — such as reviewing audit reports from state agencies, holding public hearings on approved infrastructure projects and reviewing environmental impact statements — has continued as normal. More than 500 documents have been submitted to the Federal Register since Trump came into office.
The Education Department is known for doing a lot with only a few people. With 4,400 employees, it has the fewest employees of any Cabinet-level agency, roughly half as many as the next-smallest agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Yet with so few employees, the department manages a $68 billion budget, more than half of which is on K-12 schools, with another 40 percent for higher education.
In the Trump administration, the department is learning to do a lot with even fewer employees: Of the 15 jobs requiring Senate confirmation in the department, only one is complete: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The only other formal progress is the March 31 announcement of Carlos Muñiz for the department’s general counsel. In addition to the political appointments requiring Senate confirmation, only a small portion of the 150 politically appointed jobs have been filled.
Some say the Trump administration is turning away well-qualified applicants who weren’t sufficiently loyal to him during the presidential campaign. But DeVos herself never seemed truly on board with Trump, once telling the Washington Examiner during the primaries that “I don’t think Donald Trump represents the Republican Party.”
Regardless, unfilled jobs and uncertainty in the department slow up the works. On April 26, Trump signed an executive order asking the department to study whether it has overstepped state and local control of education. That order asked the department to respond within 300 days, which would be Feb. 20, 2018. Thanks to unfilled jobs, that study might not be done in time, or it might not be as comprehensive as it would be otherwise.
The department’s Office for Civil Rights, which handles civil rights complaints against recipients of federal financial assistance from the department on the basis of race, color, nationality, sex, disability or age, already had a long backlog even before the presidential transition. The Obama administration’s final budget request for the department asked for a 29 percent increase in funding for the Office for Civil Rights, along with 164 extra employees. At the beginning of the Obama administration, there were 315 complaint cases that had been pending for more than 180 days. By the end of 2015, that number had more than quadrupled.
DeVos recently hired an acting head of the Office for Civil Rights, but as of May 1 no pick for the permanent job had been announced.
Outside of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the number of Trump nominations to fill key vacancies at the agency is scant.
Trump did nominate David Bernhardt to be Zinke’s lieutenant as deputy secretary. And Zinke, under his own authority, has announced some top advisers to help him set the agenda on energy.
But the nine bureaus that function under the agency are mostly being run by holdovers from the last administration as acting directors and assistant secretaries.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, with direct oversight of the agency, told the Washington Examiner in a recent interview that the lack of appointments within the massive agency is slowing down GOP priorities.
One of the basic tasks of his committee is to conduct a budget review, “but no one has been confirmed by the Senate to call over to talk about it,” Bishop said. “I have no one to call as a witness.”
For the entire Interior Department, “you’ve only had the secretary confirmed,” he said. “There is no one else in any of the other positions yet that aren’t simply placeholders. Calling them up to justify a budget they didn’t produce is kind of a futile effort until they actually get some people over there.”
He said it frustrates the process of working with the administration to address everything from public lands issues to endangered species rules. All of those issues are handled through Interior’s several subagencies; the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service are the most prominent.
Zinke is under pressure to meet the policy priorities of two new executive orders that the president signed at the end of last month. One is on opening more of the outer continental shelf to offshore oil and gas drilling. And another sets a deadline for reviewing and potentially rolling back many of Obama’s decisions to expand national monument sites.
But key directors, such as the head of the National Parks Service, haven’t been named.
On the offshore development agenda, Zinke will need a director for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. Zinke has the authority to appoint the directors of both subagencies but has not filled the spots. Both bureaus will be key to reviewing and revising the previous administration’s five-year energy plan and assessing where and how to open new regions for drilling and other forms of energy development.
Trump also wants to promote coal mining on federal lands, but the assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management hasn’t been named, nor has the director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement been appointed.
One of the key things that Trump has touted is to give a voice to groups such as Native American tribes across the country on land use decisions and monument designations. But no assistant secretary of Indian affairs has been nominated.
Reported by Kelly Cohen, Kyle Feldscher, Joel Gehrke, Sean Higgins, Robert King, Joseph Lawler, Kimberly Leonard, Jamie McIntyre, Jason Russell and John Siciliano