President Trump meets with his cabinet in March.

President Trump meets with his cabinet in March. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Trump Begins Naming Lower Level Management Nominees

The administration is still well behind Obama’s pace, but it is catching up with other predecessors.

President Trump on Thursday nominated two more appointees to serve in his administration, one as a top ranking Veterans Affairs Department official and another to head Customs and Border Protection.

Trump put forward more than two dozen names in March to serve in deputy, assistant and under secretary roles, as well as leaders at the component agency level. That's just a fraction of the roughly 4,000 total political appointees across government—including the nearly 1,100 who will require Senate confirmation—and is still short of where the Obama administration was at this point.  

Obama had 37 nominees confirmed as of March 20, 2009, according to a tracker from the Partnership for Public Service, with an additional 55 appointees awaiting confirmation. Trump had 20 officials in place and 17 more waiting for Senate action. He has since put forward an additional nine names, which puts him in line with the appointment rates of the George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush administrations.

“The pace has definitely picked up, as it should,” said David Eagles, director of the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition. 

In addition to VA and CBP, Trump’s March nomination spree has included new candidates at the departments of Commerce, Transportation, Health and Human Services, several at Defense and Homeland Security and a half dozen at Treasury, as well as the CIA and Small Business Administration. He also has nominated a head of the Food and Drug Administration and a member of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Kevin McAleenan, the acting CBP commissioner, is now the commissioner-designate. He is a career employee and joined the Senior Executive Service ranks in 2006. Trump followed his pattern of selecting private sector executives to form his government in nominating John Ullyot to serve as assistant VA secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs. Ullyot has served at a number of private firms, as well as on Capitol Hill.

Eagles said it was not surprising where the White House has focused its efforts on filling positions.

“The Trump administration should prioritize agencies based on their campaign promises and national security areas,” he said. “It appears that the team is being thoughtful as to how they fill the key positions.” He also praised Trump for starting to fill more management-focused positions, such as the deputy secretaries, to support those in top policy-making jobs.

Those positions are critical in ensuring the government runs effectively, and they serve as a key interface between the administration and employees responsible for executing the agenda, Eagles said. He added that he hopes to see more management-focused nominees announced soon, as they typically average longer—“well over a month”—to go through the confirmation process. From Eagles’ perspective, Trump should set the goal of having his top 400-500 nominees named and in place by Congress’ August recess.

Trump is also close to having his full cabinet in place, as the appropriate committees this week approved nominees for the final two cabinet secretary vacancies at Agriculture and Labor—Sonny Perdue and Alexander Acosta, respectively.

Once nominated, Trump’s nominees have faced a longer path to getting confirmed than their predecessors. The White House has repeatedly blamed Democratic obstruction for the delays, but the complexity of the financial background and corresponding areas for conflicts of interest have significantly bogged down the process. 

“The Trump team needs to focus not just on the nominations but on people coming through the pipeline,” PPS President Max Stier said earlier this month. “It’s a complicated process that includes getting through [the Office of Government Ethics].” 

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