Federal Job Vacancies Get Colbert Treatment (1)

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By Louis C. LaBrecque

Stephen Colbert wants to know whether Max Stier sees the government “as half empty or half full.”

Stier is president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a Washington-based nonprofit that aims to encourage top talent to consider government service. He appeared on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” to talk about high-level slots that have yet to be filled by President Donald Trump.

“That’s a major milestone for bringing attention to issues that need it,” Robert Shea, an Office of Management and Budget official during the George W. Bush administration, told Bloomberg Law March 12.

Stier told Colbert that the partnership regards roughly 630 political positions as the most crucial for the U.S. government, but that only about 250 of them have been filled. The show was aired March 9.

Confirmation Process, ‘Chaos’ to Blame?

There are a number of reasons why the Trump administration is having trouble filling political positions, said Shea, who is now with management consultant Grant Thornton in Alexandria, Va.

The Senate confirmation process can be intrusive and time-consuming, he said, deterring some people from seeking political appointments at all.

The process “has been bad for a long time,” and the pace is slow, even if nothing trips it up, he said.

Both Republicans and Democrats can be obstacles to political appointees, Shea said. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) blocked Senate consideration of Trump’s pick to lead the Office of Personnel Management, for example. Johnson allowed Jeff Pon’s nomination to proceed only after the OPM promised to resolve document-production issues that dated to the Obama administration.

The Trump administration also has made it harder to attract would-be agency leaders, Shea said.

Potential nominees wonder how much they will be able to get done and “what their reputation would be like” after serving in a “chaotic” administration, he said.

A number of top aides quit or were fired from the White House in Trump’s first 14 months. Some executive branch chiefs also have left the administration or moved to different positions. Rex Tillerson is the latest casualty, with his ouster as secretary of state announced March 13.

South Korea still lacks a U.S. ambassador, the Department of Defense has high-level openings, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration needs a chief, Stier told Colbert. Trump nominated Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) on Sept. 5 to lead NASA, but the full Senate hasn’t acted on the nomination.

Resistance from Senate Democrats to Trump’s nominees is the primary reason why more political appointees aren’t in place, Lindsay Walters, deputy press secretary at the White House, told Bloomberg Law March 12.

“President Trump is on pace with previous presidents in submitting nominees to the Senate,” Walters said. “We hope that Democrats in the Senate will put an end to their pointless obstruction and move these qualified individuals, some of whom are up for key leadership positions, quickly through the process.”

Optimist or Pessimist?

Stier appeared during a segment in which Colbert pretended to quickly fill 14 top-level federal jobs with random people he encountered in Washington.

As for Colbert’s glass-half-full question about the government? He answered it himself.

“An optimist sees the government as half full. A pessimist sees the government as half empty. And an anarchist says, Why is there a glass? That’s just people trying to control our water,” Colbert told Stier.

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