‘Chaos’ Theory: Turnover is Good for the Administration

The media spent a lot of time in recent weeks howling about the turnover in the Trump Administration. The Huffington Post, for example, published an article on March 2 by Nick Visser headlined “The Growing List Of Trump Administration Departures Will Make Your Head Spin.” CNN on March 28 featured a piece by Jan Diehm and Sam Petulla that opened with the broadside: “President Donald Trump’s administration has been marked by a series of exits from high-ranking officials. Appointments expected to last for years have only made it a matter of days, ending in chaotic departures.” That same day USA Today “updated” its running tally. Rachel Maddow frequently complains about the turnover rate on her eponymous MSNBC show.

These reports—and there have been many others in the increasingly redundant media—distort the record. Have there been departures from the Trump Administration? Yes. But according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the executive branch employs more than 2 million civilian workers. Turnover is inevitable in a workforce that large.

Of course, the media is really obsessed with turnover among “high-ranking” executive branch officials, an amorphous category of jobs that has been enlarged by the media to make it appear as if more people of consequence have left the Trump Administration than actually have.

For instance, both CNN and USA Today include Angella Reid on their lists, yet they fail to explain why the White House chief usher should be regarded as a “high ranking” administration official. Also worth noting is that Reid and many others were holdovers from the Obama Administration. It hardly seems inappropriate for a Republican president to want to replace “high-ranking” personnel from a previous Democratic Administration.

The following is a chronological list of men and women who have left the Trump Administration after occupying what most objective observers would characterize as “high-ranking” positions: Sally Yates, Michael Flynn, James Comey, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Tom Price, Andrew McCabe, Gary Cohn, Rex Tillerson, H. R. McMaster, and David Shulkin. Some on this list had engaged in official misconduct that required their removal, and a few others left because of policy differences with the president and/or performance shortcomings.

Those forced out for misconduct include Yates, an Obama appointee who was fired as acting attorney general when she refuse to implement President Trump’s order imposing a travel moratorium on people from certain nations with known ties to terrorism; Flynn, who was fired as national security advisor for lying to Vice President Mike Pence; Comey, another Obama appointee, who was fired for mishandling the investigation into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s email server; Price, who was forced to resign as secretary of Health and Human Services for spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on private flights; McCabe, yet another Obama appointee, who was fired as the FBI’s deputy director for instructing FBI officials to speak to the media about an investigation involving the Clinton Foundation and for misleading investigators about his actions; and Shulkin—likewise a former Obama Administration official—who was fired as secretary of Veterans Affairs after a scathing report from the VA’s inspector general that found he had spent an inordinate amount of time sightseeing during a European trip funded by taxpayers and had inappropriately accepted a gift of Wimbledon tennis tickets during the trip.

Spicer and Priebus were forced out as, respectively, White House press secretary and chief of staff, because they were not doing a good job. Bannon was fired as President Trump’s chief strategist for contradicting the president about North Korea and for asserting he could make personnel changes at the State Department.

Chief Economic Adviser Cohn, Secretary of State Tillerson, and National Security Adviser McMaster are being replaced because of policy and personal differences with the president.

Obviously, the president should terminate high ranking officials guilty of misconduct or who are not doing their jobs well. He also has unambiguous authority under the Constitution to replace officials who disagree with his policy positions or who don’t mesh with him personally. What do you think “serves at the pleasure of the president” means? It’s his policies the administration is carrying out.

The real problem isn’t too much turnover in the executive branch but rather that there is not nearly enough.

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, approximately 90 percent of the more than 2 million civilian workers in the executive branch are “Non-Seasonal Full-Time Permanent Employees,” or what are more commonly known as federal bureaucrats. Polls consistently show most Americans hold the federal bureaucracy in low esteem. They are of the opinion that the bureaucracy is too large and too slow, and that federal workers are overpaid, under-qualified, and don’t work hard enough.

President Trump echoed the broad public sentiment in his State of the Union Address. “All Americans deserve accountability and respect—and that is what we are giving them,” he said. “So tonight, I call on the Congress to empower every cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers—and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”

President Trump’s background is in business, not politics. Successful business leaders demand accountability from the people who work for them. The president should be commended rather than criticized for bringing that needed perspective to Washington.

Photo credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

About Scott Douglas Gerber

Scott Douglas Gerber is a visiting professor at Brown University’s Political Theory Project and a law professor at Ohio Northern University. His nine books include A Distinct Judicial Power: The Origins of an Independent Judiciary, 1606-1787 (Oxford University Press).

Want news updates?

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.