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Trump fires back at Fox & Friends criticism of federal government vacancies

President Donald Trump responded to Fox & Friends via Twitter on Tuesday morning. (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump has long said he intends to "drain the swamp" and reduce the number of unnecessary positions in the federal government, and he stayed on message Tuesday, tweeting to Fox & Friends that many of the several hundred open federal government jobs won't be filled.

The Fox & Friends crew was discussing the hundreds of positions that still have no nominees, questioning the wisdom of leaving all these positions open. The issue of federal government vacancies has come up in light of the disaster resulting from Hurricane Harvey in southern Texas and Louisiana.

“Where’s the staff? Where’s Homeland Security," Brian Kilmeade wondered on air. "Where are the nominations? Why are they being held up and why are so many positions don’t have nominees for them yet?”

Trump, a known viewer of Fox News who has responded directly to broadcasts via Twitter in the past, answered the question.

"We are not looking to fill all of those positions," Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. "Don't need many of them - reduce size of government."

What are the vacant positions?

Here are some of the areas that have significant numbers of unfilled positions, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (as of August 18, 2017):

  • 15 Defense Department appointments have been filled. For context, the Barack Obama administration had 22 and the George W. Bush administration had 33 at this same point in their presidencies.
  • 9 percent of political appointments in the Energy Department have been filled.
  • 8 percent of political appointments in the Agriculture Department have been filled.
  • 13 percent of political appointments at the Education Department have been filled.
  • 18 percent of political appointments at the State Department have been filled.

Why would some of these positions be cut?

Some of them will be filled, but some of them are simply unnecessary, in the administration's opinion. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrote a letter to Congress on Monday expressing his intent to eliminate dozens of special envoy positions from the Obama administration, including positions dedicated to climate change and the Iran nuclear deal.

"Today, nearly 70 such positions exist within the State Department, even after many of the underlying policy challenges these positions were created to address have been resolved," Tillerson wrote in the letter.

Tillerson plans to conduct a full audit of the State Department to trim excess and reorganize as needed. Positions that are eliminated will have their responsibilities transferred to other employees or integrated into other positions.

 What else should I know?

Not all of the vacancies are intentional, and not all of them exist because of Trump's administration or agenda. Both Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have attacked Democrats for slowing down the process with unnecessary procedural measures.

“It doesn’t really matter whether a nominee has been nominated to serve in the judiciary or work as an ambassador … Democrats have time and time again been willing to force needless, needless procedural votes on nominees they actually support,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Democrats consistently emphasize that Trump has only nominated 277 (excluding judiciary or non-civilian positions) or the more than 1,100 positions that require Senate confirmation, however it's important to note that of those 277, only 124 have been confirmed.

"Dems are taking forever to approve my people, including Ambassadors," Trump tweeted earlier in the summer. "They are nothing but obstructionists! Want approvals."

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