Memo for next White House chief of staff: Personnel equals policy
DECEMBER 14, 2018
Whoever the next White House chief of staff may be, I offer the following advice with the benefit of 35 years of experience as an Army officer, intelligence case officer, defense contractor, educator and fiduciary of a national, nonprofit government watchdog organization.
The old adage is: “Personnel is policy.” Whatever shortcomings or disappointments that the Trump administration has experienced, the proximate cause in virtually every instance can be walked back to the persons assigned to carrying the ball for President Trump. By definition, personnel decisions are the responsibility of the chief of staff. The chief of staff’s executive agents in these matters are the leadership of the Presidential Personnel Office (PPO). Here’s the greatest challenge for the Trump administration looking at the next two years, and the walk-up to the 2020 election: The right chief of staff (COS) must take active control over the PPO to get the right people in the right jobs (finally). The CoS has got to get this right — now.
Discernment is key. The COS needs to set a firm course for the PPO. Personnel selection and placements must reflect the character and nature of the values of the Trump presidency. Forgetting why President Trump was elected is a huge mistake. The Trump administration needs “disrupters.” Out with the opportunists, the careerists, the establishment-types, the cowards and the subversives who would pen anonymous opinion pieces for the New York Times. This is Washington — so the folks I just defined are legion. It is better for the COS and PPO to make wholesale changes now than to continue limping along under half-steam for the next two years. In short: Committed, energetic “Trumpsters” are far better in key positions than recycled, half-hearted “Bushies” and the ones whining about “but we’ve always done it this way.”
Next item for the new COS: Train all of your political appointees, from Senate-confirmed to Schedule C staff. They need to understand their affirmative obligations to argue to the point of decision. That’s a military ethic engrained in commissioned officers that seems to have been diluted or lost when it comes to civilian government leadership. For that ethic to work with civilian political leadership, power must be delegated down and a “disrupter” Trump philosophy encouraged so that decades of bureaucratic socialism is unwound and innovation encouraged. Political appointees are not functionaries or drones. They must possess and be allowed to exercise initiative. They are allowed to make (occasional) mistakes. In short, they must be courageous advocates and implementers of President Trump’s policies. Proper training will help make that a reality.
Training also should include a healthy understanding and appreciation for the dynamics of political appointees entering the career government-employee workplace environment and culture. That’s a nice way of saying political appointees need “Swamp Training.” Swamp Training helps the political appointees understand career staff efforts to co-opt their authority; impose rules and regulations that have no foundation in the law; manufacture burdensome restrictions that distract from the political appointees’ ability to do their jobs; and otherwise sabotage the political appointees’ efforts to implement Trump policies. Without this training, many a well-intentioned Trump political employee will be lost in what James Angleton famously described as a “wilderness of mirrors.”
Anti-Swamp innovations also should include assignment rotations within the Justice Department that would mirror how business is conducted in the Defense Department. Three-year duty assignments for Justice Department attorneys should be the norm. No bureaucratic “homesteading” for government attorneys. The attorneys would enjoy broader professional development, and the institution of the Justice Department would get a much needed shake-up and airing out.
Last point: “Be not afraid!” Look, the national media hates your guts from Square Zero. Success is vindication. You’re not going to make friends and be liked; you won’t find yourself on multiple magazine covers with fawning headlines and highlights about your general wonderfulness. Get over it. If you do your job right, you’ll unwind the incessant, creeping, socialism instituted by FDR, culminating in the “fundamental transformation” of the country by Obama.
President Trump pledged to “win and win and win.” I know he means it. You should, too. Borrowing a motto from Sir David Stirling, the founder of Britain’s Special Air Service, “Qui audet adipiscitur!” — Who Dares, Wins!
Chris Farrell is director of investigations and research for Judicial Watch and a member of its board of directors. A former military intelligence officer and special agent of U.S. Army Counterintelligence, he is an adjunct journalism professor in the Department of Communications at George Mason University.