Skeletal government: As Trump takes over, hundreds of jobs will be unfilled

Published 6:55 AM EST, Thu January 19, 2017

Story highlights

David Gergen says delays by the Trump team and a ridiculously slow confirmation process are problematic

The new administration will have a potentially dangerous shortage of key officials, Gergen says

Editor’s Note: David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been a White House adviser to four presidents. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and co-director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. Follow him on Twitter: @david_gergen. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

CNN —  

Senate Democrats are stirring up an angry ruckus in Washington these days, questioning the qualifications of Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees and threatening to delay confirmations until they get more answers. As has often happened in past presidencies, a couple of nominees could soon go down to defeat. Even so, Republicans retain the upper hand and should prevail in most cases, perhaps nailing down posts in national security by this weekend.

But amid this furor, there is a quieter, hidden story that could turn out to be even more important: the increasingly obvious fact that even when his Cabinet is approved, Trump will still have only a shell of a team to help him lead the biggest, most complex, and most important government in the world.

Whether or not you like Trump, this is a bad way to run a country and is highly dangerous for America’s well-being. The world today is teetering on disorder; uncertainty has crept into economic circles, too. From Day One, decision makers here and abroad will be looking to Trump and his team to see where they want to go and how they want to get there. He can’t do this alone. Yet, most of his Cabinet and his senior staff have never served in government, much less the White House.

When trouble strikes, he and his top counselors will desperately need seasoned pros at the sub-Cabinet level to provide advice and to carry out the policies of the President. But that substructure won’t be there anytime soon.

Consider these numbers posted Wednesday by The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service. By their reckoning, President Trump has 690 “key positions” to fill that require Senate confirmation. As of 48 hours before the inauguration, Trump had named only 28 of the 690, less than 4%. That means that when the Trump team goes to work on Friday afternoon, some 96% of their key offices will be empty.

Traditionally, the four most essential departments for running the federal government are Defense, State, Treasury and Justice. Here are how many of those key positions at each the Trump team should fill:

Defense - 53

State - 263