Relying on an article by Garret Graff I have pointed out some astonishing vacancies in the Trump administration before and during the pandemic. Some of the critical vacancies occurred in positions directly related to the health pandemic we are now facing. As Graff said,
Last year, the top job at the Food and Drug Administration, the role overseeing the nation’s pharmaceuticals, sat vacant for nearly eight months; the latest occupant, Stephen Hahn, took over in December, nearly a month after the first cases of Covid-19 were reported in Wuhan, China. At the Department of Veterans Affairs, which oversees a massive health care network and legally serves to supplement the civilian health care system in an emergency like the current epidemic, there’s no deputy secretary, general counsel or undersecretary for health.
All of this is not just a mess. It’s a scandal! And that scandal has been authored by none other than the President of the United States who likes the flexibility of acting appointments!
Graff also reported how the Office of Personnel Management (‘OPM’) which is in effect the government’s HR department at a time when the 2 million employees of the federal government face the incredible challenge of working from home while they carry on essential duties, also has an acting Director. Of course it does. Not only that but the acting director of OPM, Michael Rigas took over the position in late March after the OPM director who had been there for only 6 months quit just as the pandemic spilled over. He was also acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (‘OMB’). He has both positions at once. As Graff said, “Wondering how someone can effectively lead one mission-critical organization while simultaneously working as the deputy of another? The answer is you can’t.”
Remember that Trump is already on his 4th White House chief of staff, his 5th homeland security secretary and his 4th defense secretary. That is in 3 years of his administration! This is a record of incompetent appointments that has likely never been matched in the history of American government. And Trump knows the best people!
I know some people get annoyed when I criticize Trump, but I am not really trying to criticize Trump. He is too easy a target. I am criticizing a very common attitude in both the United States and Canada. This is the assumption that governments are incompetent and unimportant and all that counts is the private sector. That is a dangerous attitude and its warts are revealed in an emergency—such as a pandemic.
From the start of his administration Trump made clear his contempt for government. That attitude is shared by millions of Americans and Canadians too, but it has had disastrous consequences, that we can now see clearly. There are many reasons that the Trump administration has failed in its response to the pandemic. Many countries have done a much better job of fighting the pandemic than the United States. David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker put is well:
The reasons for the American failing include a lack of preparation, delayed mobilization, insufficient testing, and a reluctance to halt travel. The Administration has, from its start, waged a war on science, and expertise, and on what Trump’s former advisor Steve Bannon called ‘the administration state.’ The results are all around us. Trump has made sure that a great nation is peculiarly vulnerable to a foreseeable public health calamity.”
The failure to respond to a pandemic is just one of the problems created by this contempt, but it is a serious one. And we are learning that.
Remember the vacancies are only part of the problem. The other problem, perhaps even more important is the poor quality of the appointments. For example, appointing Grenell as acting Director of National Intelligence, the most important position in American intelligence when he has never worked in intelligence before is heinous. His predecessors were admirals, generals, and head of various intelligence agencies. This is who is in charge of national intelligence!
According to garret Graff, who wrote an article about this for Politico, “At the Department of Veterans Affairs, the few leaders who do exist badly lack experience in crisis response, as the department’s inspector general reported in the early days of the coronavirus crisis.”
According to the New York Times, “At the Department of Veterans Affairs, workers are scrambling to order medical supplies on Amazon after its leaders, lacking experience in disaster responses, failed to prepare for the onslaught of patients at its medical centers.”
Perhaps the lack of appointments and poor quality of those appointed can be explained by the fact that, according to Graff, “The new head of the Office of Presidential Personnel, which is in charge of choosing appointees across the government, was fired earlier in the administration over allegations of financial crimes, and one of its top deputies is still a college student.”
Imagine that a top deputy position filled by a college student. Sounds weird to me.
As I have said this is all as a result of Trumps contempt for government. Americans are paying a heavy price for that contempt. Actually, the world is paying a heavy price for that contempt because almost everything he does in the US affects us here too. And that is a pity.