Crucial divisions across the American government remain topped by vacant positions
The Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs in the Defense Department doesn't have a nominee
The Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs job in the State Department is also empty
And the crucial ambassadorship to South Korea also remains vacant
Tensions between the United States and North Korea are growing stronger and all eyes are focused on how President Donald Trump and his team will navigate the road ahead.
There’s just one wrinkle: a lot of major posts across the executive branch are still empty, because the Trump administration has yet to nominate them.
Crucial divisions in the American government remain topped by vacancies and are currently run by temporary officials in only an acting capacity – including several pivotal to relations with North Korea.
A major Defense Department slot – the Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs – is still vacant, currently run by a temporary fill-in. Meanwhile, a key State Department position called the Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs is also without a nomination.
These important spots are not replaced by a vacuum: They are currently being filled by David Helvey and Susan Thornton, respectively, each of whom have decades of experience as civil servants in their areas of expertise.
Still, Barack Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, had appointed their hand-picked leaders to these roles by June in their first terms.
And the crucial ambassadorship to South Korea also remains vacant: Trump has not nominated anyone for the post yet. Bush and Obama had this position filled at this point in their terms. (Obama carried over Bush’s ambassador to South Korea.) It’s currently filled by Marc Knapper, the previous No. 2 of the embassy.
Also, crucial State Department positions remain without a nominee. The Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, which oversees “global US security policy, principally in the areas of nonproliferation, arms control [and] regional security,” according to the State Department, remains vacant. Still, the position was filled and confirmed by May under Bush and by June under Obama.
The heads of the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance and the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation also remain un-nominated under Trump. And the Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs, essential to bridging the gap between the State and Defense Departments, has not been nominated under Trump despite being confirmed under both Bush and Obama by June. It’s currently filled by Tina Kaidanow, an experienced former Coordinator for Counterterrorism and deputy ambassador in Afghanistan.
One key post does remain intact: Obama-appointee Joseph Yun remains Special Representative for North Korea Policy and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Korea and Japan. And Trump has nominated and confirmed Terry Branstad as Ambassador to China and nominated Guy Roberts as Assistant Secretary for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs.
But the list doesn’t stop there. At this point in 2009, Obama had also nominated and confirmed a handful of other posts, including an Assistant Secretary for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance and a Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs, the Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency and an Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy in the Department of Energy. All have not yet been nominated under Trump.
CNN has reached out to the White House for comment.
Trump has fallen behind the nominating pace of his predecessors, naming 277 people through Wednesday, compared to 414 at this point for Bush and 433 for Obama, according to an analysis of data from the Partnership for Public Service and the US Senate.
Presidents typically have roughly 1,200 positions requiring Senate confirmation to fill.
Only 124 of Trump’s nominees have been confirmed – a smaller proportion than Bush and Obama to this point. But Republicans point to obstruction from Democrats in the US Senate.
Tensions have escalated in recent days, as North Korea plots a potential an attack on Guam and after Trump threatened “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
CNN’s Aaron Kessler, David Heath and Dan Merica contributed to this report.