U.S. foreign aid agency hit with low morale as White House works to appoint Trump loyalists

Key Points
  • The federal government's agency for foreign aid, USAID, has seen its morale plummet after several controversial hires.
  • The department that focuses on providing foreign aid to countries around the world and boasts a budget of nearly $40 billion.  
  • One liaison has supported and has been involved with pushing through multiple controversial political hires that work at or with the agency, including some who have a history of anti-Islamic and LGBT remarks.
U.S. President Donald Trump pauses as he speaks prior to signing an Executive Order on the White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, July 9, 2020.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

President Donald Trump's former body man entered the White House after he was chosen to lead the Presidential Personnel Office earlier this year with a message to a team of liaisons: sweep out anyone disloyal to the commander in chief. 

John McEntee, Trump's new personnel head, reportedly called on the group in that meeting in February to find any so-called "Never Trump" political appointees and bring their names back to him. 

McEntee later pushed out many of those liaisons he called upon to help with his purge. They were then replaced by a group of younger, more loyal representatives in positions that historically act as a go-between the White House and various agencies, according to people familiar with the matter who declined to be named. Liaisons have often assisted both their assigned department and the White House with hiring political appointees.

As a result of several controversial hires, morale has plummeted at the federal government's agency for foreign aid, according to these people.

The people who spoke to CNBC for this story declined to be named as these details had yet to be made public. 

One of the loyal Trump White House liaisons backed by McEntee, these people said, is William Maloney, who now works with the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. The department that focuses on providing foreign aid to countries around the world and boasts a budget of nearly $40 billion.  

Maloney has been close to Trump and his allies for years. Beyond his recent stint as a paralegal at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he was an assistant for the pro-Trump nonprofit America First Policies and was an assistant at the Department of Justice. He was an intern on Trump's 2016 campaign. 

USAID acting spokesperson Pooja Jhunjhunwala did not deny Maloney's involvement with the controversial appointments and referred questions about their hiring practices to the White House, which did not respond for comment.

"On your questions regarding specific personnel decisions, we will have to refer you to the White House. USAID is honored to continue to work with the White House in carrying out the administration's important work," Jhunjhunwala told CNBC on Friday. "William Maloney is the White House Liaison for the agency, and his role is just that – working as a liaison between the White House and USAID on political appointments. This is always the role of that position for any administration, regardless of party," he said. 

Maloney declined to comment for this story when reached.

Since becoming the USAID liaison, Maloney has supported and has been involved with pushing through multiple controversial political hires that work at or with the agency, including some who have a history of anti-Islamic and LGBT remarks, these people said. That has led to an extreme drop in morale and a rush of requests both within and outside the agency to acting USAID administrator John Barsa to either investigate or address a wide range of social issues linked to the new recruits. 

Merritt Corrigan, the new USAID deputy White House liaison, has previously published online posts, such as one on Twitter, that said "our homo-empire couldn't tolerate even one commercial enterprise not in full submission to the tyrannical LGBT agenda," according to ProPublica.

The Washington Post reported that Mark Kevin Lloyd, the agency's new religious freedom advisor, and another USAID hire backed by Maloney, the sources said, has a track record of promoting anti-Islamic comments

Barsa has publicly defended these hires.

"Political appointees are appointed at the discretion of the White House to carry out the President's foreign policy agenda at USAID," Barsa said in a statement in early June. "I have full confidence that each political appointee at USAID has and will continue to implement the President's policies and agenda to the best of his or her ability," he added. 

Jhunjhunwala noted that USAID officials were not aware of any allegations of discrimination filed against anyone at the agency. 

"While at USAID, we are not aware of any allegations of discrimination or other actions by the appointees in question that are less than professional or not up to the highest legal, moral and ethical standards that USAID has always held," the spokesperson told CNBC. "USAID leadership remains committed to creating a diverse, inclusive environment, free from discrimination and intolerance. We have long ensured that USAID employees, regardless of hiring category, are held to the highest legal, moral and ethical standards and will continue to do so."

Maloney helped Joseph Guy land a spot at USAID, as well, according to one of the people. According to his LinkedIn profile, he started working in May as the special assistant to the assistant administrator at the agency. He was previously a Trump White House intern. Rick Guy, who is Joseph Guy's father, became a senior advisor at the USAID Office of General Counsel a month after his son joined the agency, his LinkedIn profile says. 

Prior to his role at USAID, Rick Guy was a personal injury lawyer and ran in 2018 for a New York State Senate seat. During the Republican primary for that seat, he faced hurdles from the state Board of Elections after his son Joseph picked up signatures needed to get his father's name on a Republican ballot, only for it to be later discovered that the younger Guy was not a member of the Republican Party. Joseph Guy had previously signed a waiver saying he was, in fact, a member of the party, according to a report by The Citizen newspaper.  The Board of Elections later removed Rick Guy from the ballot and he did not appeal, the paper later reported. 

People familiar with the matter say that Maloney has signaled to allies that he plans to recommend more political hires that would be Trump loyalists. 

Employees at the agency have started pushing Barsa to take a stand against the hires.

CNBC reviewed an email that was sent to Barsa in late June, which appeared to be in reaction to the recent string of hires. 

Co-signed by close to a dozen USAID employee resource groups, including Gender and Sexual Minorities at USAID and the Young Professionals at USAID, the email directly calls out Barsa for his earlier statement that month that backed Corrigan and Lloyd. 

"We are concerned that your press statement did not demonstrate concern for the well-being of USAID employees who have been targeted by the language in question, nor address accountability measures to prevent language like this from occurring within the Agency," the email said. "We request a meeting with you to discuss how we can collaborate on ensuring that USAID's workforce is valued in its full diversity and can experience a supportive and inclusive working environment." 

The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, a bipartisan coalition that "promotes more effective and accountable U.S. foreign assistance that advances American interests," wrote a letter to Barsa dated June 26 voicing their concerns about the group of hires. 

"We write to you today to express our concerns that, at this critical time, the philosophical beliefs of some employees may be hindering effective delivery of U.S. foreign assistance," the group said. "As leader of the world's premier bilateral aid agency, we urge you to ensure that USAID's career and political staff are empowered to continue their focus on delivering U.S. foreign aid based on development outcomes and data-driven programming." 

It was signed by co-chairs of the coalition. Some of whom had previously worked for USAID. 

Then there's a group of seven Democratic lawmakers who wrote to Barsa on June 17. They specifically targeted the hiring of Lloyd and Corrigan, while demanding an investigation of their past statements. 

"The appointment of Lloyd and Corrigan risks alienating the hardworking staff at USAID – not only women, Muslims and members of the LGBT community – but any employee that is justifiably dismayed that people who hold these views were appointed to represent the world's premier international development agency," the letter said.