By John O’Grady
Who is running our government? It is true that the presidential transition is a difficult process. There are upward of 4,000 positions to be filled by presidential appointment. However, of 614 key positions in the Trump administration requiring Senate confirmation, only 203 have been confirmed by the Senate, 150 have been formally nominated, 10 are still awaiting nomination, and 251 positions have no nominee. According to Max Stier, the CEO of the nonpartisan Center for Presidential Transition, the Trump administration is lagging behind almost every modern-day president.
Trump’s failure to move his nominees through the confirmation process has real world implications. The nominee for EPA’s top law enforcer, the head of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, Susan Bodine, still has not been confirmed. EPA’s normal process of catching and punishing polluters has been disrupted for an entire year. Instead, cases are piling up, and EPA is unable to move quickly to protect public health.
On the other side of the spectrum, Trump’s nominees are often so odious and unsuited for their positions that they have difficulty earning Senate confirmation. Michael Dourson, the nominee to head EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, is another case in point. Thought to be a shill for the chemical industry, he was involved in setting a West Virginia standard for PFOA that was at least a thousand times higher than EPA’s current safety level. The Senate has yet to find that he is worthy of protecting the American people from chemical contamination.
This is particularly troubling given Mr. Trump’s penchant for recruiting the “best people” for his administration and picking fights on Twitter using polarizing and outlandish declarations himself that push the boundaries of human decency.
Private citizens and elected officials alike are asking whether Mr. Trump is fit to perform the responsibilities of the Office of President of the United States. Certainly, recent news reports that the Republican leadership in the House and Senate are weighing their options.
Fortunately, there is a modicum of hope in the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution (adopted on Feb. 16, 1967). Section 4 of the 25th Amendment allows a majority of the president’s cabinet to declare in writing to the president pro tempore of the Senate (Utah’s archconservative Sen. Orrin Hatch) and the Speaker of the House of Representatives (Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin), that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Congress would then have to assemble and determine by a two-thirds vote of both chambers that the President is unfit to serve.
However, look at the president’s Cabinet. It is alarming that hostile zealots occupy vital positions, and many among them counteract the intended values of their agency. That includes Scott Pruitt at EPA, Ryan Zinke at Interior, Rick Perry at Energy, Sonny Purdue at Agriculture, Betsy DeVos at Education, Ben Carson at HUD. The list goes on as each ideolog would redefine an antithetical purpose of their confirmation.
Pruitt and Zinke have been particularly adept at upending what their respective agencies stand for. Pruitt consistently, and spectacularly, disregards the scientific advice of EPA career scientists, preferring the advice of polluting industries in “protecting” the environment.
Zinke is expected to accompany Trump to the Bears Ears and Grand Escalante-Staircase National Monuments this week, to drastically reduce their size and scope so the American people have less, not more, natural land under protection from development. It’s hard to see how cabinet officers who do not honor the mission of their own departments would honor their commitment to the Constitution under the 25th Amendment.
Even when they are confirmed, Trump’s nominees have trouble complying with the simple ethical rules that would allow them to stay in office and serve the American people. Tom Price served less than eight months in office because he implicated ethical rules by flying on pricy private planes for government travel. Pruitt and Zinke have also come under fire for using private planes at exorbitant cost on the public dime. Pruitt has been investigated for lying under oath to Congress and violating the Hatch Act, leading one to wonder how these could be “the best people.”
John O’Grady is president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National Council of EPA Locals #238 representing over 9,000 bargaining unit employees at the U.S. EPA nationwide.