A key to success is to surround yourself with good people. That’s what one best-selling book says. It reads, “I have a very simple rule when it comes to management: hire the best people from your competitors, pay them more than they were earning, and give them bonuses and incentives based on their performance. That’s how you build a first-class operation.”
Words penned by our very own President Trump in The Art of the Deal and advice he is ignoring as our federal government lacks thousands of staff, particularly in senior positions, months into his presidency.
To run an effective organization you need a high performance team, at all levels, with common purpose and goals set forth by leadership. This is true at the Department of Agriculture, or the Securities and Exchange Commission. But it is especially true in the arena of international affairs, where the stakes are high, our friends anxious and our enemies armed with nuclear weapons and suicide bombers. And yet, as of June 5, President Trump had only named 12 ambassadors to foreign nations, nine of which have been formally submitted to the Senate yielding four total confirmations. Four!
I recently returned from Japan, Korea and Germany, three of our most important allies. Not one of those nations already has an American ambassador. Granted, we have very talented career Foreign Service officers in charge for the time being, but this temporary solution leaves us weakened and uncertain in dangerous times. The vacuum that has been created is dangerous for the U.S., and reduces our influence and diplomatic tools and strength worldwide.
What is the point of leaving these positions vacant? Is there a purpose behind this or is it simply ignorance? Perhaps the gaps are caused by the president’s failure to take this problem seriously, or perhaps good people, political appointees and career Foreign Service officers, aren’t lining up to take jobs (some dangerous) for an administration that reels from one crisis to the next. Whatever the reason, our lack of ambassadors is yet another example of America’s worrisome disengagement in global affairs, a profoundly dangerous trend for our country and the world.
Similarly, policy shops in the State Department also lack senior leadership in nearly every position. President Trump has not nominated a single assistant secretary. These assistant secretaries are the people who actually act on the policy decisions and principles of any administration. While talented career employees can keep the nuts and bolts of the agencies running, without leadership at the top, it is nearly impossible for departments to effectively function. What good is a non-functional State Department in the face of terrorism in Europe, North Korean missile tests and ISIS assaults on Iraqi battalions?
As the former Secretary of Agriculture, I could not even begin to carry out congressional and administration policy without a team of high performance political and career employees dedicated to serving the American people. This is true across the board, but especially true the State Department and other agencies dealing with America’s role in the world.
Normally, Congress holds up nominations, seeking favors from the administration, as presidents try to rapidly staff up following their inauguration. At this point, it is time that Congress push the administration to get going. Congress, in its oversight role, can’t let our executive branch keep running with no one behind the wheel.
President Trump ran on his business experience and ability to get things done. President Trump says in The Art of the Deal that he is a man of action. Yet the absence of a high performance team in his administration belies his image as a decisive leader. It is his responsibility to manage the United States government. You cannot manage this huge, powerful and complex country without having a cadre of talented people in your executive agencies. Our national and economic strength and stability is at stake. When you’re President of the United States, there is no such thing as a dream team of one. President Trump needs to realize that, and get moving.