Trump’s White House turnover highest in decades: expert

Team Udayavani, Dec 11, 2018, 2:57 PM IST

Washington: Donald Trump’s White House turnover has been the highest in decades, a top historian has said, days after the US President announced that his Chief of Staff John Kelly would be leaving the administration soon.

Trump’s White House had the “highest 73 per cent turnover” of top-ranked staff experienced by any recent president, Martha Joynt Kumar, who is director of the White House Transition Project, told PTI.

“Among the Assistants to the President group, President Trump’s White House had the highest turnover of top-ranked staff experienced by any recent president,” she said.

An emeritus professor of political science at Towson University, Kumar said the group of approximately two dozen White House staff titled assistant to the president form a president’s core leadership team.

The turnover at this level is particularly important for the stability and direction of the presidential decision-making process.

President Trump is now in the process of appointing his third Chief of Staff after he announced last week that Kelly will be leaving the White House by the year end.

“I am in the process of interviewing some really great people for the position of White House Chief of Staff,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

“Fake News has been saying with certainty it was Nick Ayers, a spectacular person who will always be with our #MAGA agenda. I will be making a decision soon!” he said.

There were changes in the Chief’s office beyond moving from Reince Priebus to Kelly as Chief of Staff, Kumar said.

Sharing the details of her research of “assistant the President Staff Turnover at the 23-Month Mark” which makes a comparative study of all US presidents since Ronald Regan (1981-89), Kumar said a whopping 70 per cent or 30 of the 41 assistants to the president appointed in the first year of Trump’s presidency left their original position by approximately 23-month mark.

The White House turnover of former president George H W Bush was the lowest with just 18 per cent (only three of the 17 assistants appointed in the first year left their original position.) 

Bush was followed by his son George W Bush (24 per cent or five out of 21), Barack Obama (28 per cent or nine out of 32); Ronald Regan (38 per cent or six out of 19) and Bill Clinton (54 per cent or 14 out of 26 senior staffers left their positions by the end of the second year).

According to the forthcoming research paper ‘Energy or Chaos?’, turnover at the top of President Trump’s White House’ also has the distinction of the largest number of people (54) working for him in senior leadership position in the first two years.

Trump is followed by Obama and Clinton under whose first two years of presidency, 33 people worked at senior leadership positions.

George H W Bush had just 18, while his son had 24 people in their first two years. Regan had 21 people in senior leadership positions in the first two years.

According to Kumar, the level of turnover has led to leadership changes in the dozen White House offices that are key to the processing of presidential decisions; to the policies a chief executive develops, initiates, and implements; and to those units charged with managing a president’s relationships with those outside of the administration.

Without a team working together, it is difficult for a president’s staff to coordinate its plans and work as well as develop and articulate commonly-shared presidential priorities and goals, she said.

Kumar said that one of the reasons for a brisk White House staff turnover was a failure by the president and his transition team to choose people who together represented a balanced White House staff.

The position of Deputy Chief of Staff with responsibility for carrying out the Chief’s orders passed to four people within 16 months, she said.

Katie Walsh had the position when Reince Priebus was Chief, and it passed to Kirstjen Nielsen when Kelly took over the post. While she was there, the position was renamed to indicate her role as the Principal Deputy Chief of Staff among the three deputies.

After Nielsen left the White House in 2017 to become Secretary of Homeland Security, the position remained vacant until February 2018 when a White House press release announced the appointment of James Carroll to the deputy position at the Assistant level, she said.

According to Kumar, what many see as staff chaos, Trump views as staff energy.

“Presidents view staff success on their own terms, where their highest priority may or may not be their capacity to develop and carry out policy sustainable among the branches and levels of government,” she said.

Having a hierarchical system with clear lines of authority was an organisational priority for both Presidents Bush and, to a lesser extent, Reagan, she said, adding that has not been the case with President Trump.

Kelly exit from the White House is the latest in a series of reshuffles in the Trump administration.

Trump appointed State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert as the US’ next ambassador to the UN, replacing Indian-origin Nikki Haley who said in October that she would step down at the end of the year.

Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson was fired by Trump on March 13 after rifts between them. On Friday, Trump tweeted that Tillerson was “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell”.

James Comey, the FBI director, who led the Russia probe before Mueller, was fired by Trump in May last year.

Michael Flynn resigned in February last year as Trump’s national security adviser.

Trump replaced H R McMaster on March 22 with John Bolton as the national security adviser.

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