'I'm the only one that matters': Trump is leaving holes in his government

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump still lags behind his predecessors in nominating officials to Senate-confirmed government positions.
  • The president has signaled that many of those vacancies are intentional.
  • The Departments of State, Labor and Education, among others, have high proportions of unfilled, crucial jobs.
President Donald Trump talks to reporters and members of the media as he departs with his family going to his Mar-a-Lago resort for the Thanksgiving holiday on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, DC on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017.
Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Ten months into his administration, President Donald Trump has not filled numerous holes in federal agencies.

Trump has broadly lagged behind his predecessors in appointing people to Senate-confirmed jobs. While major vacancies exist at several departments, some agencies lack officials at a bigger proportion of top posts than others.

As of Tuesday, Trump had nominated 458 people to posts deemed critical by the Partnership for Public Service, an organization that tracks presidential appointments. That figure, and the 249 people confirmed to those jobs by the Senate, fall short of the four presidents who preceded him at the same point in their presidencies.

Trump has signaled that he has left at least some of those positions deliberately unfilled. The president has questioned the need for many government jobs, particularly at the State Department, where he has called for significant budget cuts.

"Let me tell you, the one that matters is me," he told Fox News earlier this month when asked about vacancies in the department. "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, you've seen it strongly."

He later added: "We don't need all of the people. You know, it's called cost-saving."

Aside from the State Department, agencies like the departments of Commerce and Agriculture also lack crucial appointed officials, said Max Stier, CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. The departments of Labor and Education, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, are among the agencies that have seen the smallest proportion of Trump appointees confirmed to key jobs.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Qualified acting officials have served in many of the positions Trump has failed to fill, Stier said. But he likened them to substitute teachers, who lack all the tools to do their jobs effectively.

In addition, many of those officials just lost even more authority to carry out their jobs after Trump passed a key legal deadline.

Anne O'Connell, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied the presidential appointment process, expects confirmations for Trump administration jobs to pick up. She notes that the Senate had received 529 overall Trump nominations as of Nov. 17, including judicial appointments. At the same point in his presidency, President Barack Obama had sent 601 overall nominations.

She believes Trump will see a "big bump" in confirmations before the end of his first year in office in January. Republicans control 52 Senate seats and nominees only need a majority vote for confirmation.

While Trump has pledged not to fill many jobs in the government, O'Connell expects him to appoint officials in key agencies "if the White House cares about agencies carrying out its policy preferences."