5 Things You Need to Know About Federal News From the Past Month

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. Russia investigation takes a turn

Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn has plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador. Flynn agreed to cooperate with the Special Counsel Office, headed by Robert Mueller. Read the court filing, statement of offense, and plea agreement.

According to NBC News, Flynn contacted the Russians at the urging of top Trump transition officials and spoke with three top officials about those communications, including Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, and K.T. McFarland, who served as a transition advisor to Trump and deputy national security adviser.

As this story is still developing, it’s not known what impact Flynn’s plea deal will have on Mueller’s special investigation or the Trump administration.

2. New faces

Richard Cordray’s resignation as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau set off a showdown over who will head the agency. Cordray appointed chief of staff Leandra English to direct the bureau, while Trump named Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, as the CFPB’s interim director. After a federal judge refused to issue a temporary restraining order to block Mulvaney’s appointment, English will seek a preliminary injunction.

Trump made Kellyanne Conway the point person for coordinating his administration’s response to the nation’s opioid crisis. Conway has no formal experience in drug policy, law enforcement, public health, or managing government agencies.

Scott Pruitt added new members to the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, and Board of Scientific Counselors. E&E News reported that the appointees “give more weight to representatives of industry and state governments at the expense of university researchers.”

3. Agency issues

E&E News and The Intercept reported that several acting directors seem to be in violation of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA), having overstayed the legally allowed 210-day limit on the time they may serve without Senate confirmation. The articles contend that the administration has been quietly removing the “acting” title from their name to circumvent the law.

CBS News pointed out that the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the top scientific advisory body within the Executive Office, is still “without a leader or official mandate.” The agency has just 45 staffers, down from 135 under Obama, and most “do not have a background in science.” Trump has not nominated anyone to lead OSTP.

A much-shared Vanity Fair expose described how the U.S. Department of Agriculture “laid on a friendly welcome for the Trump transition team, but they soon discovered that most of his appointees were stunningly unqualified.” The Trump transition team took more than a month to appear, and when it did, it was just one person.

An opinion piece in The Washington Post examined how despite Trump’s promise to “hire the best people,” many of his appointees are lacking the important qualifications required for their positions.

Amidst rumors that Trump might fire Rex Tillerson as the head of the State Department, The Washington Post reported that the agency’s diplomats are being pushed out in droves and The New Yorker said Tillerson has “wrecked” the agency. Earlier in the month, when FOX News asked Trump about his lack of nominees for positions at the State Department, he replied:

“Let me tell you, the one that matters is me, I’m the only one that matters because when it comes to it that’s what the policy is going to be…we don’t need all the people that they want. Don’t forget, I’m a business person and I tell my people ‘well you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them.'”

4. Confirmations

As the end of the year approaches, the Senate has been pushing confirmations through. Steven G. Bradbury was confirmed as general counsel at the Transportation Department. Many Senators and advocacy groups opposed Bradbury’s nomination because he wrote the “torture memos” that authorized the use of waterboarding and other torture during the George W. Bush administration. Former coal mine executive David Zatezalo was confirmed as assistant secretary for mine safety and health at the Department of Labor despite “harsh criticism” over his company’s safety record. The Senate narrowly confirmed Bill Wehrum as assistant administrator of the EPA’s office of air and radiation, following debate over Wehrum’s conflicts of interest.

Joseph Otting was confirmed as comptroller of the currency at the Treasury Department, although there were concerns over appointing an ex-banker to lead the regulation of Wall Street. The Senate also confirmed Steven Engel as assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Derek Kan, a general manager of the transportation company Lyft, was confirmed as undersecretary of transportation for policy at the Transportation Department.

There were many confirmations at the Defense Department, including Mark Esper as secretary of the Army; John Gibson as deputy chief management officer; Joseph Kernan as undersecretary for intelligence; and Guy Roberts as assistant secretary for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs; Robert Wilkie as undersecretary for personnel and readiness; Robert Behler as director of operational test and evaluation; Thomas Modly undersecretary of the Navy; James Geurts assistant secretary of the Navy; Robert McMahon assistant secretary of defense for logistics and materiel readiness; and Shon Manasco assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs.

Over at the State Department, Michael Evanoff was confirmed as assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, Manisha Singh as assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, Irwin Steven Goldstein as undersecretary for public diplomacy, and Shawn Lawler as chief of protocol. At the Energy Department, Mark Menezez was confirmed as undersecretary of energy; Paul Dabbar as undersecretary for science; and Steven Winberg as assistant secretary.

Also confirmed: Brenda Burman as commissioner of reclamation at the Interior Department; Melissa Sue Glynn as assistant secretary of the Affairs’ Office of Enterprise Integration and Randy Reeves as undersecretary for memorial affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs; David Redl as administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) within the Department of Commerce; Kyle Fortson and Gerald Fauth as members of the National Mediation Board; Kevin McIntrye and Richard Glick as commissioners on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); and several ambassadors and a slew of U.S. district attorneys.

5. Withdrawn nominations

The Trump administration withdrew Timothy Kelly‘s nomination for assistant secretary for career, technical, and adult education at the Department of Education when, according to Education Week, “it surfaced that [Kelly] was the author of a personal blog that made offensive statements about Muslims, Head Start parents, and federal efforts to recruit women into the sciences.”

The White House also withdrew Major General Ryan F. Gonsalves‘ nomination for the head of U.S. Army Europe “following an Army finding that he mistreated a congressional staffer.”

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, 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.

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Todd Berman

Thank you for keeping us informed.

All of these appointments of unqualified people to important roles is a very disturbing attack on our government and all the people it represents and serves.

This makes me want to rededicate myself to competence and professionalism in the work I do for my local government.