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 all 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.
Finally and importantly, this is 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.
1. Grim mood and staff recruitment stagnation
The New York Times reported on May 30 that Trump is “finding it challenging” to recruit new staff members into the White House administration. Even those already working for the administration believe that “no one’s position…feels entirely secure,” with Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Jared Kushner, and even daughter Ivanka Trump not necessarily immune from Trump’s ill will. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Trump is discussing “shaking up his top staff,” as did The Washington Post, Fox News, and other media outlets.
Earlier in May, officials told The Washington Post that Trump’s White House team “is growing increasingly weary,” with one Republican adding, “the real question is, how long do you put up with it?” TIME wrote about how administration and agency employees alike are “weighing the sometimes conflicting interests of their country, their careers and the President they serve.”
Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for Southern District of New York who was fired by Trump in March, wrote a much-discussed opinion piece titled, “Are there still public servants who will say no to the president?”
2. Sudden departures
Many more White House employees and other key agency staffers have either quit, been fired, or removed themselves from the nomination process.
Most notably, Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey. As for why Comey was fired? The New York Times reported that in a meeting with Putin’s top diplomats at the White House, Trump told the Russian Foreign Minister and Russian Ambassador that Comey was a “nut job” and firing Comey removed a “great pressure” on the investigation into Trump’s relationship with Russia. The White House did not deny that Trump made those comments. Comey is scheduled to testify before the Senate on June 8 about the Russia investigation.
Also in May, Michael Dubke, Trump’s communications director, resigned for personal reasons after spending only three months in the job. James Runcie, the chief operating officer of the Office of Federal Student Aid, quit citing “brewing management problems he perceived within the agency” under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. John Thompson, director of the U.S. Census Bureau resigned during the crucial ramp up to the 2020 Census. Angella Reid, chief usher at the White House, and the first woman and second African American to hold the job, was fired for undisclosed reasons.
And there’s more. Goldman Sachs executive Jim Donovan withdrew as Trump’s nominee for deputy Treasury secretary due to “family concerns,” leaving this key Treasury position unfilled over four months into the administration. Former Senator Joe Lieberman withdrew from consideration for FBI director, citing a potential conflict of interest. And, Mark Green pulled out as Trump’s nominee for Army secretary after he was criticized for his troubling remarks about LGBT people, Muslims, and others. Green was Trump’s second unsuccessful nominee to the position.
While Trump still has not submitted nominees for hundreds of key executive branch positions requiring Senate confirmation, he did announce 10 nominees to fill some of the 120 vacant federal judiciary positions.
3. Ethical excuses
Trump has exempted top White House senior staff from the ethics rules he created by executive order in January.
The 14 ethics waivers allow at least 17 White House officials to work with their former employers and clients, meet privately with the media, be involved in processes in which may benefit their financial interests, and collaborate with pro-Trump and pro-Republican political and advocacy groups. Though the official list of ethics waivers is extensive, The Daily Beast points out that it still does not include all the waivers issued to Trump’s political appointees working throughout administration and at agencies.
It’s worth noting that the Trump administration took months to release these waivers to the public and only did so after significant, sustained pressure from the Office of Government Ethics and its director, Walter M. Shaub Jr., and others. The White House also made it clear that federal agencies were authorized to disclose ethics waivers they have issued.
The ethics waivers were quickly criticized. One source of the criticism is that some waivers are undated making it impossible to know if they were issued before certain White House officials are alleged to have violated ethics rules. The high number of waivers has also been criticized. The Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan government accountability watchdog group, tweeted this observation: “The Trump @WhiteHouse gave out as many ethics waivers in 4 months as @ObamaWhiteHouse did in 8 years.”
4. Agencies in deep freeze
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), part of the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department, has almost 700 vacant job openings because of Trump’s hiring freeze begun in January, according to The Washington Post. Here are some details on the roles left unfilled at the agency that stops infectious disease from spreading:
Unfilled positions include dozens of budget analysts and public health policy analysts, scientists and advisers who provide key administrative support. Their duties include tracking federal contracts awarded to state and local health departments and ensuring that lab scientists have the equipment they need…Several positions are in the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, which regulates some of the world’s most dangerous bacteria and viruses and manages the nation’s stockpile of emergency medical countermeasures. Others include positions in the director’s office, infectious disease offices and the office for noncommunicable diseases, injury and environmental health.
Even though the federal-wide hiring freeze ended in April, the freeze has been extended at HHS, the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other agencies, per GovExec. An unknown number of other positions remain unfilled throughout these agencies.
The news about the CDC came to light thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Sierra Club.
5. On a lighter note, finding ways to manage up
Nestled in a Reuters article about Trump’s first trip abroad were these surprising methods that some agency officials have resorted to in order to deal with Trump’s notorious short attention span. Trump “likes single-page memos and visual aids like maps, charts, graphs and photos.” And there’s this sly maneuver:
National Security Council officials have strategically included Trump’s name in “as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he’s mentioned,” according to one source, who relayed conversations he had with NSC officials.
Useful tricks to know if your agency has to prepare materials for Trump to review.
So much more happened in the last month. There’s plenty of federal government developments we didn’t cover like Trump’s “dead on arrival” budget proposal and its flaws and faulty math, the ever widening and troubling Russia investigation, Trump’s revealing classified information not once but (at least) twice, the new commission looking into unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, and Trump’s confusing #covfefe midnight tweet. And, since Trump announced he’ll withdraw the U.S from the international Paris Agreement on climate change on June 1, I’ll likely tackle in next month’s recap.
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. (However, please keep politics out of the conversation.)
Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and speaker 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.