Changes in federal government keep coming fast. That’s why GovLoop gives you these monthly recaps of federal news that may affect agency management and employment. If you’ve fallen behind, check out the previous recaps.
By the time you read this, there will undoubtedly be new developments. And, this roundup can’t include everything. The focus is on federal news most relevant to government employees. Check out the linked sources for more information to stay on top of the latest news in government.
1. Record-setting staff turnover
There were so many departures in the administration and federal government this month that the New York Times called it a “whirlwind.”
David Sorenson, a White House speechwriter for the Council on Environmental Quality, a division of the Executive Office of the President, and Rob Porter, White House staff secretary, both resigned after allegations surfaced that they’d physically abused their former wives. Porter’s controversial departure launched investigations into White House staff who lack security clearances yet have access to classified information, which resulted in dozens losing their interim clearances or having them downgraded, including Jared Kushner.
George David Banks, a senior official at the National Economic Council, resigned after being told he would not receive a permanent security clearance. Rachel Brand, associate attorney general at the Justice Department, quit because she was reportedly “frustrated by vacancies at the department and feared she would be asked to oversee the Russia investigation.” Josh Campbell, a special assistant to the FBI director resigned, and explained the frustrations that led to his departure in an op-ed.
Joe Yun, a State Department diplomat to North Korea, resigned, saying he plans to retire. Trump still has not nominated an ambassador to South Korea.
2. Even more departures
Reed Cordish, policy advisor to Jared Kushner at the Office of American Innovation, resigned. Matthew Masterson is out as chairman of the Election Assistance Commission after Trump and Paul Ryan chose to not recommend him for a second term. Thomas Hicks was selected as his replacement. Heath Hall, acting chief of the Transportation Department’s Federal Railroad Administration, quit after Politico raised questions about whether he was simultaneously working as a public relations consultant.
Hope Hicks resigned as White House communications director the day after testifying before the House Intelligence Committee about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and admitting she has told “white lies” on behalf of the administration. She was Trump’s fourth communications director and held the position for less than six months. The deputy communications director, Josh Raffel, also announced he will be leaving.
Jon Cordova, principal deputy assistant secretary for administration at Health and Human Services, was put on administrative leave for “promoting unfounded claims and conspiracy theories on social media.” Christine Bauserman, special assistant to Secretary Ryan Zinke at the Department of Interior, resigned after CNN’s Kfile “flagged inflammatory comments she made on Facebook and Twitter.”
After all these departures, the New York Times observed that White House digital director Dan Scavino Jr. is “the only member of the president’s original campaign team working directly for Mr. Trump.”
The Senate pushed through a large number of confirmations in February. Brett Giroir was confirmed as assistant secretary of Health and Human Services “despite pushback by Democrats who feared women’s access to care could be harmed by his appointment.” For the Office of Management and Budget, the Senate narrowly confirmed Russell Vought as deputy director despite controversial religious comments he made, and confirmed Margaret Weichert as deputy director for management.
Also confirmed: Andrei Iancu as undersecretary for intellectual property and director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; Neil Jacobs as assistant secretary for NOAA’s Environmental Observation and Prediction; Barbara Stewart as chief executive officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service; Raymond Martinez as administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration; Ronald Batory as administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, and Adam Sullivan as an assistant secretary of governmental affairs, both at the Transportation Department; John Demers as an assistant attorney general in the national security division of the Justice Department; and John Marshall Mitnick as general counsel of Homeland Security.
The Senate confirmed a number of officials at the Defense Department: Kevin Fahey as an assistant secretary for acquisitions; John Gibson as chief management officer; Phyllis L. Bayer as an assistant secretary of the Navy; William Roper as an assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisitions; Thomas E. Ayres as general counsel of the Department of the Air Force; John Henderson as assistant secretary of the Air Force; and Michael Griffin as undersecretary for research and engineering.
For the Energy Department, the Senate confirmed Lisa Gordon-Hagerty as undersecretary for nuclear security, and Melissa Burnison as an assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs. It also confirmed Holly Greaves as chief financial officer at the Environmental Protection Agency and Bill Northey as undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services at the Agriculture Department. A number of trade officials were also confirmed: Jason Kearns as a member of the U.S. International Trade Commission; Gregory Doud as chief agricultural negotiator at the Office of the United States Trade Representative; and C. J. Mahoney and Dennis Shea as deputy U.S. Trade Representatives. The Senate also confirmed several U.S. district judges, district attorneys, and marshals.
4. Withdrawn nominations
K.T. McFarland withdrew her nomination as ambassador to Singapore after Reuters reported the Senate “delayed her nomination due to concerns about her testimony to Congress over communications with Russia.”
The White House withdrew Kathleen Hartnett‘s nomination to lead the Council on Environmental Quality after she faced a controversial confirmation process because of her “demonstrably false proclamations” about climate change, energy, and environmental pollutants.
Thomas Brunell withdrew from consideration as deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau after he was criticized for lacking government experience, and for defending racist gerrymandering and voter suppression.
Robert Weaver withdrew his nomination to lead the Indian Health Service after Wall Street Journal reported allegations that he exaggerated his work experience.
5. Agency issues
We’ve reached #5 in our list of top federal news from February, yet we’ve barely scratched the surface of everything that happened during the shortest month of the year. Here are a few highlights (or lowlights, depending on your point of view):
- Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed a complaint that the Interior Department has been illegally relying on temporary agency directors.
- Veterans Affairs is dealing with internal turmoil after an inspector general report revealed ethical violations, rival factions within the VA’s leadership, and more.
- The Justice Department “quietly closed” the Office for Access to Justice, which increased access to legal counsel and assistance to all citizens.
- After taking over the U.S.’s opioid agenda, Kellyanne Conway has reportedly been ignoring drug policy experts.
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is “dramatically downsizing” its activities to prevent epidemics.
- In an op-ed in The Hill, Human Rights Watch summed up the changes to justice and rights in the U.S. under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
- NPR investigated how the Trump administration and Mitch Mulvaney are “making radical changes to deter” the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “from aggressively pursuing its mission.” News & Guts offered useful further analysis of the situation, as did The New Yorker.
- The head of cybersecurity at Homeland Security confirmed “Russians successfully penetrated the voter registration rolls of several U.S. states prior to the 2016 presidential election.”
Note: This article not an opinion about or endorsement of any policies, regulations, or orders, nor of the behaviors of elected officials, political appointees, government employees, other individuals, organizations, or agencies.
What other federal government developments have caught your attention? What stories are you and your colleagues talking about at the office? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, freelance writer, and trainer based in San Francisco. She helps organizations engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is laurengirardin.com and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.
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