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Hundreds of top government jobs under Trump are unfilled. So who’s running things?

The federal government employs 2 million civilian workers nationwide, but many positions at the top of the food chain remain empty a year into the Trump presidency. Of more than 600 key jobs filled by presidential nomination, more than half of them are currently vacant awaiting confirmation or have no nominee. Lisa Desjardins reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The announced departure of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe opens up yet another high-level government post under President Trump. In his case, it's being filled by the number three ranking person at the FBI.

    But, as our own Lisa Desjardins reports, there are still quite a few other posts in the Trump administration that remain empty one year in.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Let's start big.

    The federal government now has close to two million civilian workers nationwide. Now let's focus on the biggest bosses. There are a few hundred key positions appointed by the president and approved by the Senate. These are the people who run our government day to day. And one year into the Trump presidency, many of those posts are still empty.

    Let's take 630 key jobs, all of them filled by presidential nomination and tracked by the Partnership for Public Service. Of those 630 top jobs, about 240 of them right now have no nominee. Another 140 of those jobs have nominees, but they're waiting to be confirmed. Upshot?

    More than half of key positions right now are unfilled.

    What are these jobs exactly? The top jobs, agency heads and the second- and third-highest ranking rungs underneath. What do they do? A lot. Things like keeping roads safe. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration does not have an administrator, its top job, right now, nor anyone to head its legal, financial or enforcement divisions.

    That reportedly has frozen several new safety standards. Something else affected? The opioid crisis. The White House Drug Control Office, meant to work on the issue, has no director, and has seen several other appointees leave.

    And there is a long list of other vacancies, top spots at the Pentagon and at the State Department, at the Agriculture Department, the offices overseeing national food safety. And at the Energy Department, several key nuclear oversight jobs are unfilled. That's just to name a few.

    So who's running things? A change in federal law that went into effect just last year allows a temporary acting replacement in these jobs, but only for 300 days. That's to give presidents time to make nominations.

    But Mr. Trump hasn't made nominations for hundreds of these jobs, and the 300-day clock has run out. That's creating an unprecedented situation. Those acting in these jobs do not technically have the legal authority to do them anymore.

    One other reason for vacancies, more workers are leaving. The Washington Post reported more than 70,000 federal workers quit or retired in the first six months of the Trump administration. That is a 42 percent increase over the same period for President Obama.

    But, overall, President Trump may not see any of this as a problem.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We don't need all the people that they want. You know, don't forget, I'm a businessperson. I tell my people, when you don't need to fill slots, don't fill them.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The president wants to shrink government. And that includes at the top. Mr. Trump has fewer slots filled or nominated than any president in 25 years.

    What we don't know is whether this will make government impressively more efficient or dangerously less functional.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Lisa Desjardins.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you, Lisa.

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