President Donald Trump signs the Section 232 Proclamations on Steel and Aluminum Imports on March 9, 2018. Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian / White House

White House office in charge of Trump nominees run by inexperienced staffers

An office at the White House that is responsible for filling thousands of federal government positions has been run by inexperienced staffers who hosted happy hours, played drinking games and smoked electronic cigarettes while on the job, The Washington Post reports.

Prior administrations, Republican and Democrat alike, have staffed the Presidential Personnel Office with at least 90 employees, the paper said. But under President Donald Trump, it has had only about 30 as it reviews candidates for more than 4,000 jobs, with more than 1,200 of those requiring Senate confirmation, The Post reported.

“No administration has done it as poorly as the current one,” Max Stier, the president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, told The Post.

Last summer, Stier testified before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs about the lack of leadership at the Indian Health Service. The agency, which oversees a health delivery system for more than 2 million Native Americans has gone without a permanent director since 2015, all the while it has suffered from quality of care issues.

“There's no question that it's critical to get full-time leadership at IHS,” Stier told lawmakers on June 13, 2017.

Four months later, Trump nominated Robert Weaver, a citizen of the Quapaw Tribe, to serve as director of the IHS. He was abandoned by the White House last month amid questions about his qualifications -- something the Presidential Personnel Office is supposed to have considered during the vetting process.

“Some in DC both in and out of government and even a small group from Indian Country made the decision for me and you that I was not the right person to lead IHS,” Weaver said in an unusual public letter in which he said he was "forced" to drop out.

Tara Sweeney, who is Inupiat from Alaska, has been nominated to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs but has not secured a confirmation hearing in the Senate. Photo: Frode Overland Andersen / Utenriksdepartementet

The IHS isn't alone in lacking leadership. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has gone without a permanent Assistant Secretary since 2016 -- Trump's nominee, Tara Sweeney, has yet to secure a confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

According to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who would be Sweeney's boss, it's because she is Inuit from Alaska and has ties to Alaska Native corporations, which were created by Congress. And while Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has blamed the Office of Government Ethics, a separate federal agency, for the delay, the Presidential Personnel Office also had a role in reviewing the nomination.

"To say that you can't be a Native Alaskan to represent Native Alaskans is unconscionable," Zinke told the National Congress of American Indians during its winter session in Washington, D.C., last month.

At this point in his administration, President Trump has only 387 Senate-confirmed nominees, The Post reported. In contrast, Barack Obama had 578 and George W. Bush had 548, the paper said.

Publicly, Zinke and other Trump officials have blamed Democrats for the delays in getting people on board. They have not acknowledged whether the Presidential Personnel Office -- whose ranks include one staffer with arrests for drunken driving and writing bad checks and another with arrests for assault and underage drinking -- has had anything to do with it.

“Despite historic obstruction from Democrats in Congress, the Presidential Personnel Office is filling the administration with the best and brightest appointees who share the president’s vision for the country,” said Raj Shah, the White House principal deputy press secretary, told The Post. “Staff work tirelessly and have experience consistent with the practice of previous administrations.”

As Sweeney sits in limbo as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs nominee, Trump announced Jean Carol Hovland, a citizen of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, to serve as the Commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans, a top position at the Department of Health and Human Services. She has yet to secure a confirmation hearing.

Read More on the Story:
Behind the chaos: Office that vets Trump appointees plagued by inexperience (The Washington Post March 30, 2018)

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