John Kelly is trying to solve the problem of Trump's empty administration

The White House used to micromanage appointees, partly based on how loyal they were to Trump

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published October 16, 2017 9:39AM (EDT)

 (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump's administration is extremely understaffed, and it's up to Chief of Staff John Kelly to fill the hundreds of critical jobs that are vacant, according to new reports.

Kelly believes the problem is that the process gets bottlenecked by requiring those staffing decision to be run through the White House, according to Politico. Kelly's predecessor, Reince Priebus, required most of the major staffing decisions to go through the Oval Office.

As Politico pointed out, Kelly has personal experience dealing with this frustrating issue:

As a Cabinet pick and then as Department of Homeland Security secretary, Kelly was frequently exasperated during the transition and early days of the administration over his inability to choose his own staff. He got into frequent spats with the White House over filling a handful of top jobs in his department, according to one of the people close to him.

One particular problem has been that Trump has demanded potential candidates be loyal to him, including having not spoken negatively about him during the 2016 presidential election. For example, this requirement torpedoed an effort by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to appoint Elliott Abrams, who worked in foreign policy positions under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, as his undersecretary of state.

"Look, everyone in the White House is upset. It’s both a problem of getting candidates through the bureaucracy and through the Senate. Of course Kelly is upset. The whole system is totally screwed up," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

In the past, Trump has tried to defend leaving these positions unfilled by arguing that it is part of his larger effort to reduce the size of the administrative state, one of the stated goals of his election campaign.

"I'm generally not going to make a lot of the appointments that would normally be — because you don't need them. I mean, you look at some of these agencies, how massive they are, and it's totally unnecessary. They have hundreds of thousands of people," Trump told Forbes Magazine earlier this month.

The problem with this argument is that many of the positions left unfilled are inarguably important. This includes the positions of ambassador to South Korea and assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, both of which will prove critical as America's bilateral crisis with North Korea continues to escalate.

In addition to Trump demanding loyalty from his potential staffing picks, experts have observed that he has seemed to misunderstand the fundamental difference between staffing a government and running a business.

"It's a failure to understand the operating needs of the government. I think there wasn't an appreciation that running a successful campaign would require a different approach in running a successful government versus a successful business," Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, told CNN Money.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Donald Trump John Kelly