The White House personnel office is basically a frat house

The Presidential Personnel Office is apparently being run by inexperienced 20-somethings — and it shows

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published March 30, 2018 6:48PM (EDT)

President Donald Trump pauses during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, March 20, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/ (AP/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump pauses during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, March 20, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/ (AP/Evan Vucci)

Remember Taylor Weyeneth? He was a 24-year-old on the rise, the deputy chief of staff at the White House drug policy office who had a glittering resume that made it seem only fair for him to land such a cushy gig.

Except, as it turned out, Weyeneth had lied about a number of details on his resume: Whether he has completed his Masters coursework at Fordham University, the length of time he had spent as a legal assistant at the law firm O’Dwyer & Bernstein, the duration of his tenure as vice president of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, whether he had ever volunteered at a Queens monastery.

In January Weyeneth was let go, according to The Washington Post, but there were still questions about how someone as unqualified and demonstrably dishonest as him was able to get hired in the first place. Was it a fluke occasion in which someone dropped the ball?

A piece of that puzzle may have fallen into place on Friday, when The Washington Post reported that the Presidential Personnel Office — which is responsible for finding and vetting thousands of political appointees — is understaffed and run by young people who treat the office like their own personal frat house.

These anecdotes from the Post's story speaks volumes:

Even as the demands to fill government mounted, the PPO offices on the first floor of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building became something of a social hub, where young staffers from throughout the administration stopped by to hang out on couches and smoke electronic cigarettes, known as vaping, current and former White House officials said.

PPO leaders hosted happy hours last year in their offices that included beer, wine and snacks for dozens of PPO employees and White House liaisons who work in federal agencies, White House officials confirmed. In January, they played a drinking game in the office called “Icing” to celebrate the deputy director’s 30th birthday. Icing involves hiding a bottle of Smirnoff Ice, a flavored malt liquor, and demanding that the person who discovers it, in this case the deputy director, guzzle it.

It should hardly come as a surprise that two of the office leaders have less than stellar backgrounds of their own. One dropped out of college and has arrests for drunk driving and writing bad checks, while the other managed to get arrested for assault, disorderly conduct, fleeing an officer and underage drinking as a Marine Corps reservist. Another senior staffer managed to get jobs for four of his relatives due to his position at the PPO — a feat that probably wasn't too difficult considering that many jobs have remained unfilled due to the office being understaffed. With only 30 current employees, the PPO under Trump has less than a third of the staff that existed in previous administrations.

Bear in mind: This is an office responsible for filling more than 4,000 government positions, with more than 1,200 of those requiring approval from the Senate.

As Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, told the Post, "No administration has done it as poorly as the current one."

The White House denied this and blamed Democrats for obstruction, of course, but the numbers simply don't bear out that story. At this point in their presidencies, George H. W. Bush had 481 confirmed appointments, Bill Clinton had 619 confirmed appointments, George W. Bush had 615 confirmed appointments and Barack Obama had 548 confirmed appointments. Trump, by contrast, has only had 387 confirmed appointments, and they have taken an average of 84 days for each one (the range for the previous four presidents was 43 to 65 days).

Just as troubling as the low quantity of appointments, though, is the fact that so many have been low quality. Someone like Weyeneth pales in comparison to Carl Higbie, a former Navy SEAL who Trump appointed as the Chief of External Affairs for the Corporation for National and Community Service. It later turned out that Higbie had a long history of making misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic and racist comments, which ultimately led to his resignation.

Of course, the worst appointment of all may be a candidate with no governmental experience whatsoever, a long history of alleged sexual misconduct, a business track record that has led to thousands of lawsuits, more racist and sexist comments than are easy to record and a resume that had as its most recent highlights a stint as a reality TV star.

Good thing that person doesn't have too much power, right?

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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