Ad­min­is­tra­tion in­stalls “com­mis­sars”

White House has 16 se­nior aides planted in de­part­ments to mon­i­tor loy­alty, ac­cord­ing to sources.

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Lisa Rein and Juliet Eilperin

washington» The political ap­pointee charged with keep­ing watch over En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt and his aides has of­fered un­so­licited ad­vice so of­ten that af­ter just four weeks on the job, Pruitt has shut him out of many staff meet­ings, ac­cord­ing to two se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials.

At the Pen­tagon, they’re pri­vately call­ing the for­mer Marine of­fi­cer and fighter pilot who’s sup­posed to keep his eye on De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis “the com­mis­sar,” ac­cord­ing to a high-rank­ing de­fense of­fi­cial with knowl­edge of the sit­u­a­tion. It’s a ref­er­ence to Soviet-era Com­mu­nist Party of­fi­cials who were as­signed to mil­i­tary units to en­sure their com­man­ders re­mained loyal.

Most mem­bers of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Cab­i­net do not yet have lead­er­ship teams in place or even nom­i­nees for top deputies. But they do have an in­flu­en­tial co­terie of se­nior aides in­stalled by the White House who are charged — above all — with mon­i­tor­ing the sec­re­taries’ loy­alty, ac­cord­ing to eight of­fi­cials in and out­side the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

This shadow gov­ern­ment of political ap­pointees with the ti­tle of se­nior White House ad­viser is em­bed­ded at ev­ery Cab­i­net agency, with of­fices in or just out­side the sec­re­tary’s suite. The White House has in­stalled at least 16 of the ad­vis­ers at de­part­ments in­clud­ing En­ergy and Health and Hu­man Ser­vices and at some smaller agen­cies such as NASA, ac­cord­ing to records first ob­tained by ProPublica through a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quest.

Th­ese aides re­port not to the sec­re­tary, but to Rick Dearborn, the White House deputy chief of staff for pol­icy, ac­cord­ing to ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials. A top Dearborn aide, John Mash­burn, leads a weekly con­fer­ence call with the ad­vis­ers, who are in con­stant con­tact with the White House.

The aides act as a go-be­tween on pol­icy

mat­ters for the agen­cies and the White House. Be­hind the scenes, though, they’re on an­other mis­sion: to mon­i­tor Cab­i­net lead­ers and their top staffs to make sure they carry out the pres­i­dent’s agenda and don’t stray too far from the White House’s talk­ing points, said sev­eral of­fi­cials with knowl­edge of the ar­range­ment.

“Es­pe­cially when you’re start­ing a gov­ern­ment and you have a changeover of par­ties when poli­cies are go­ing to be dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent, I think it’s some­thing that’s smart,” said Barry Ben­nett, a for­mer Trump cam­paign ad­viser. “Some­body needs to be there as the White House’s man on the scene. Be­cause there’s no se­nior staff yet, they’re func­tion­ing as the White House’s voice and ears in th­ese de­part­ments.”

The ar­range­ment is un­usual. It wasn’t used by Pres­i­dents Barack Obama, George W. Bush or Bill Clin­ton. And it’s also dif­fer­ent from the tra­di­tional li­aisons who shep­herd the White House’s political ap­pointees to the var­i­ous agen­cies. Crit­ics say the com­pet­ing chains of com­mand even­tu­ally will breed mis­trust, chaos and in­ef­fi­ciency — es­pe­cially as new depart­ment heads build their staffs.

“It’s healthy when there is some day­light be­tween the pres­i­dent’s Cab­i­net and the White House, with room for some dis­agree­ment,” said Kevin Knobloch, who was chief of staff un­der Obama to then-En­ergy Sec­re­tary Ernest Moniz.

“That can only hap­pen when agency sec­re­taries have their own team, who re­port di­rectly to them,” he said. “Oth­er­wise it comes off as not a ring­ing vote of con­fi­dence in the Cab­i­net.”

The White House de­clined to com­ment about the ap­pointees on the record, cit­ing the con­fi­den­tial­ity of per­son­nel mat­ters and in­ter­nal op­er­a­tions. But a White House of­fi­cial, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity, con­tested their mis­sion of hold­ing agen­cies ac­count­able and said they tech­ni­cally re­port to each depart­ment’s chief of staff or to the sec­re­taries them­selves.

“The ad­vis­ers were a main point of con­tact in the early tran­si­tion process as the agen­cies were be­ing set up,” the of­fi­cial said in an e-mail. “Like ev­ery White House, this one is in fre­quent con­tact with agen­cies and de­part­ments.”

The ad­vis­ers’ power may be height­ened by the lack of com­plete lead­er­ship teams at many de­part­ments.

The long de­lay in get­ting Trump’s nom­i­nee for agri­cul­ture sec­re­tary, for­mer Ge­or­gia Gov. Sonny Per­due, a Repub­li­can, con­firmed means that Sam Clo­vis, who was a Trump cam­paign ad­viser, and tran­si­tion team leader Brian Klip­pen­stein con­tinue to serve as the agency’s top political ap­pointees.

“He and Brian Klip­pen­stein are just a hand­ful of ap­pointees on the ground, and they’re do­ing a big part of the day-to-day work” said Dale Moore, the Amer­i­can Farm Bureau Fed­er­a­tion’s pub­lic pol­icy ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

Ev­ery pres­i­dent tries to as­sert author­ity over the ex­ec­u­tive branch, with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess.

The Obama White House kept tight con­trol over agen­cies, telling se­nior of­fi­cials what they could pub­licly dis­close about their own depart­ment’s op­er­a­tions. For­eign pol­icy be­came so cen­tral­izedthat State Depart­ment and De­fense Depart­ment of­fi­cials com­plained pri­vately that they felt mi­cro­man­aged on key de­ci­sions.

Af­ter then-At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder made some political gaffes, Obama aides wanted to in­stall a political aide at the Jus­tice Depart­ment to mon­i­tor him. But Holder was fu­ri­ous about the in­tru­sion and blocked the plan. For­mer De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert Gates pushed back against a top of­fi­cial the White House wanted at the Pen­tagon to guide Asia pol­icy, wary of some­one so close to the pres­i­dent in his or­bit.

For­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich, R-Ga., a Trump ad­viser, said the pres­i­dent needs to dis­patch political al­lies to the agen­cies to mon­i­tor a bu­reau­cracy that’s be­ing tar­geted for re­duc­tion.

“If you drain the swamp, you bet­ter have some­one who watches over the al­li­ga­tors,” Gin­grich said. “Th­ese peo­ple are ac­tively try­ing to un­der­mine the new gov­ern­ment.And they think it’s their moral obli­ga­tion to do so.”

At the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment, for­mer Penn­syl­va­nia lob­by­ist An­thony Pugliese shut­tles back and forth be­tween the White House and DOT head­quar­ters on New Jer­sey Av­enue, ac­cord­ing to an agency of­fi­cial.

His of­fice is just 20 paces from Sec­re­tary Elaine Chao, the of­fi­cial said.

Day to day, Pugliese and his coun­ter­parts in­form Cab­i­net of­fi­cials of pri­or­i­ties the White House wants them to keep on their radar. They over­see the ar­rival of new political ap­pointees and co­or­di­nate with the West Wing on the agency’s di­rec­tion.

The ar­range­ment is col­le­gial in some of­fices, in­clud­ing at Trans­porta­tion and In­te­rior, where aides to Chao and Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke in­sisted that the White House ad­vis­ers work as part of the team, at­tend­ing meet­ings, help­ing form an in­fras­truc­ture task force and de­sign­ing pol­icy on pub­lic lands.

The White House’s 16 se­nior aides in Cab­i­net agen­cies re­port not to the sec­re­tary but to Rick Dearborn, left, the White House deputy chief of staff for pol­icy. Jabin Bots­ford, The Washington Post

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.