Federal Job Vacancies Get Colbert Treatment

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 Colbert’s late-night TV show to talk about high-level openings that have yet to be filled since President Donald Trump took office.

A televised discussion about the government’s difficulties in filling top political jobs is “a major milestone for bringing attention to issues that need it,” Robert Shea, a White House Office of Management and Budget official in the George W. Bush administration, told Bloomberg Law March 12.

The Partnership regards roughly 630 political appointments as the most crucial for the U.S. government. About 250 of them have been filled, Stier told Colbert during the March 9 show.

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

Confirmation, `Chaos’ to Blame?

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

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

Republicans as well as 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 back 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 year in office.

The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment from Bloomberg Law. The administration has said that resistance from Senate Democrats to Trump’s nominees is a significant factor in explaining why more political appointees aren’t in place.

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.

Optimist or Pessimist?

Stier’s TV appearance came 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.