In April the role of the American Homeland Security Secretary was vacant for an entire year! Remember Trump fired her because he felt she was not tough enough in enforcing his border security policies. She was reluctant to support separating young children from their parents at the border as Trump’s immigration Czar, Steven Miller had required. Imagine that. Remember that the Department of Homeland Security (‘DHS’) has many crucial roles in any domestic crisis, not just military ones. They were created to fight terrorism but a lot more than that. Pandemics are part of their jurisdiction too. That makes sense, as we are all finding out now, pandemics are a much bigger threat than terrorists or even wars. More Americans have already been killed in this pandemic than the Vietnam War! In her place the Acting secretary Chad Wolf, according to Graff “ fumbled through the epidemic.” As Garret Graff reported in Politico ,
Wolf couldn’t answer seemingly straightforward questions on Capitol Hill from Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana about the nation’s preparedness—what models were predicting about the outbreak, how many respirators the government had stockpiled, even how Covid-19 was transmitted. “You’re supposed to keep us safe. And you need to know the answers to these questions,” Kennedy finally snapped at Wolf. Wolf has been notably absent ever since from the White House podium during briefings about the nation’s epidemic response.
Wolfe was a fairly typical Trump appointment. He picks his appointments because they think like him. That is a scary thought. Now imagine that! Obama used to pick appointments because they were smart, even if they would think differently than him. After some of Trump’s nominees for appointment to various government posts met with scorn even by his usually loyal Republican Senators, Trump deliberately moved to appointing “acting” appointments. Those don’t need Senatorial approval, thus eliminating potential embarrassment when their weaknesses are exposed. But there are problems with this approach. As Graff reported,
“Actings” often struggle to be successful precisely because they’re temporary—their word carries less weight with their own workforce, with other government agencies or on Capitol Hill—and they rarely have the opportunity to set and drive their own agenda, push for broad organizational change or even learn the ropes of how to be successful in the job given the usually brief period of their tenure. Anyone who has ever changed jobs or companies knows how long it can take to feel like you understand a new organization, a new culture or shape a new role.
And yet up and down the org chart at DHS, there are people still learning the ropes. DHS is riddled with critical vacancies; according to the Washington Post’s appointment tracker, just 35 percent of its top roles are filled. Its chief of staff, executive secretary and general counsel are all acting officials, and there’s no Senate-confirmed deputy secretary, no undersecretary for management, no chief financial officer, no chief information officer, no undersecretary for science and technology, nor a deputy undersecretary for science and technology.
Graff outlined numerous positions with DHS that have had acting appointments or none at all. That is the other way Trump avoids embarrassment. Don’t appoint anyone! Then Trump won’t be embarrassed as his appointees fail or flounder.
Disdain for government in some circles is very popular. But disdain for government has a price. A high one.