Relying on an article by Garret Graff in Politico, 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 acting director of 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. But 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. It has been the platform for mockery of the government for decades. Particularly since Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney were elected heads of their respective governments. That is a dangerous attitude and its warts are revealed in an emergency—such as a pandemic. I think it is time we deep-six that convenient attitude. It really is not that convenient in the long run.
From the start of his administration Trump made clear his contempt for government. That attitude has had disastrous consequences. 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 result are all around us. Trump has made sure that a great nation is peculiarly vulnerable to a foreseeable public health calamity.”
We are learning how costly and dangerous contempt for government can be.