President Donald Trump on Sunday said that the United States needs to be “smart, vigilant and tough” after a string of terrorist attacks rocked London over the weekend. However, the president’s counter-terrorism strategy could be hindered by the dozens of vacancies across his administration and the government, including a permanent FBI director after the firing of former director James Comey.
Top ranks at the State Department have remained largely unfilled, as have some key ambassadorships. Trump, meanwhile, is still yet to name anyone to lead the Transportation Security Administration, or to run the Homeland Security office charged with protecting the country’s physical and cyber infrastructure.
At the Justice Department, President Trump has not nominated an assistant attorney general for the national security division. And he has not nominated a deputy at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence or a director of the office’s National Counterterrorism Center.
And again, perhaps most crucially, he has yet to name a permanent director of the FBI, an agency which plays a central role in combatting domestic terrorism. Trump has continued to interview candidates for the role nearly a month after he fired the aforementioned Comey.
“This is a team sport,” Max Stier, head of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, an organization that advised Trump’s transition team on hiring, told Politico. “It’s critical to have a full team.”
Trump has made headway in filling some of his major national security posts — at the Defense Department, he was quickly forced to replace his initial national security adviser Michael Flynn after he was fired in February. Other than that, hiring has slowed dramatically across the board, in some cases, the process has been bogged down by a personnel office that has overwhelmed, as well as internal disputes amongst the president’s own aides. In some cases, Cabinet secretaries are still mulling a reorganization that might do away with certain positions.
The leadership vacuum across Trump’s federal government has even kept him from meeting promises he made before taking office. Trump blew past his own 90-day deadline to craft an anti-hacking strategy, with no clarity on who was in charge of the issue.
Regardless, some experts have said the slowdown wouldn’t prevent the federal government from responding to a terrorist threat because the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are staffed with long-serving experts.
Trump took to Twitter on Saturday and Sunday to call for a forceful response to terrorism and to take a few digs at London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
“We must stop being politically correct and get down to the business of security for our people. If we don’t get smart it will only get worse,” Trump wrote on Twitter.