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Trump Administration Has More Than 250 Unfilled Jobs

Nov 22, 2017
Originally published on November 22, 2017 5:31 pm
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President Trump has been in office for more than 300 days now, and there are still hundreds of unfilled jobs in the federal workforce. That 300-day figure is significant. It means that under law people who have been filling some of those jobs in an acting capacity have come to the end of their legal terms, and that could mean more legal trouble for the Trump administration. NPR's Brian Naylor explains.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: There are some 1,200 federal jobs that require Senate confirmation. From the start, President Trump has been skeptical of the need for them all. Earlier this month in an interview with FOX News, he made his governing philosophy clear.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Let me tell you - the one that matters is me. I'm the only one that matters because when it comes to it, that's what the policy is going to be. You've seen that, and you've seen it strongly.

NAYLOR: While Trump may believe he's the only one that matters when it comes to setting policy, it still takes others to implement it. And that's been a problem for his administration. There are some 256 key posts for which the president hasn't even nominated anyone. Many of the vacant posts are being filled by acting administrators, some of them holdovers from the Obama administration. But there is a legal limit to how long someone acting in the job can be on the job, says Max Stier, director of the Partnership for Public Service.

MAX STIER: In 1998, Congress passed a law that was intended to prevent administrations from doing an end run around the Senate confirmation process by simply putting someone in an acting role forever in those jobs.

NAYLOR: That law, the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, gives a new administration 300 days to fill posts, a deadline for Trump that has come and gone. So now if someone in an acting position makes an important decision, it's subject to a court challenge as being improperly made. Stier says this is a problem.

STIER: That means that you have to figure out workarounds or get a very busy Cabinet secretary agency head to do the work of another position in addition to their own responsibilities - not a good situation.

NAYLOR: And the vacant jobs include some key positions. Trump has often talked about taking care of the nation's military veterans. This is from his Veterans Day message.

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TRUMP: We must ensure that our veterans are given the care and support they so richly deserve.

NAYLOR: But one of the jobs Trump has yet to fill is the undersecretary for benefits at the VA in charge of a $97 billion budget and responsible for disbursing benefits to veterans and their families. Another vacant position at the Labor Department oversees veterans training programs, and the list goes on, from the general counsel at the Pentagon to the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Terry Sullivan of the University of North Carolina says the administration is making things difficult for itself.

TERRY SULLIVAN: I don't know what they're going to be capable of doing now. And that's just another complexity. You know, they've got court cases that have been making their job harder. They've got an unruly Republican Party in the majority that's been making their job harder. This is just going to be another thing making their job harder.

NAYLOR: Max Stier at the Partnership for Public Service says the president is mistaken to think that he can go it alone.

STIER: The belief that any one individual can do it all is simply wrong.

NAYLOR: Stier says it takes a team to effectively carry out the president's policies - a team that is still not put in place. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.