As key figures in the Trump administration have recently been fired or resigned, the administration is relying on acting Cabinet officials. Concerns are rising if this ongoing purge in the Trump administration would deprive it of the power to implement policies and cause instability.
President Trump on Monday fired Director Randolph Alles of the Secret Service, a federal agency under the Department of Homeland Security. A day before that, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Alles’ boss, resigned, leaving many to wonder if President Trump is purging key officials at the department, who have been disobedient to him.
With Kevin McAleenan, the current U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, appointed as the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, three out of 15 departments within the administration, including Interior, Defense, and Homeland Security, are led by acting secretaries. Mick Mulvaney is serving as acting White House Chief of Staff, while his former position, director of the Office of Management & Budget, still remains vacant. Other key agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Small Business Administration are currently led by director-level figures.
Former heads of these federal agencies had one thing in common: they were not afraid to express their opinion to President Trump and did not implement policies as requested by the president. According to U.S. media reports, they were presumably removed because they had tried to stop Trump from pushing ahead with unlawful policies. Nielsen reportedly resisted Trump’s push to reinstate family separation policy, calling it a “violation of international laws and court order.” Moreover, during last month’s meeting at the White House, she told Trump that closing down the southern border would be “a bad and even dangerous idea.” Trump got infuriated and yelled at Nielsen, according to CNN. Former Defense Secretary James Mattis and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly had similar moments with President Trump.
There have been voices of criticism that appointment of acting secretaries undermines the principle of separation of legal, administrative, and judicial powers by weakening the power of Congress to verify and ratify the appointment of high ranking officials. Currently, only 436 out of 717 high-ranking officials have been confirmed by Congress. The rest of them have not gone through confirmation hearing or have not even been appointed.