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Tracking turnover in the Trump administration: Year three

January 27, 2020 11:56 am Adrienne Cobb

For the past three years, I’ve been keeping track of employee turnover in the Trump administration using a spreadsheet and an eagle eye on the latest news. While many media outlets have reported on this administration’s high turnover, there has not been a comprehensive list of every detail of every top official’s departure… other than my spreadsheet, called the Trump Gov Tracker. 

Last Tuesday marked the start of the fourth year of Donald Trump’s presidency. In these past 1,095 days, 489 top officials have left their positions in the Trump administration. That’s an average of one person leaving the administration every 2.2 days. As we’ll see later, this daily average is slightly skewed by the committees and boards that either quit en masse or were disbanded by the president in one fell swoop. Leaving the committees out, 369 officials left over the 1,095 days, which comes out to an average of one person leaving roughly every 3 days.

THE DATA

Of the 489 departures, 252 (or 51.5%) were hired while Trump was in office . Some may argue that the list should only contain these 252 people, since the other 237 were hired by Trump’s predecessors. I disagree because an administration relies on experienced veterans of public service in order to train the new political appointees, ensure an orderly transition, and generally guide their department with their significant expertise. For this reason, I included officials who were not hired by Trump on my list.

  • Note: At the beginning of a president’s administration, it is normal for certain political appointees of the previous administration to be asked to resign – unless the situation was extraordinary, I did not include these individuals.

Of the 237 people not hired by Trump on the list, 26 departed in Trump’s first month in office. Five were fired; one was forced to resign due to differences in policies; the other 20 people were members of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who resigned in protest of Trump’s policies. The five fired individuals were longtime (30+ years) officials in the State Department sacked by Rex Tillerson. From this, we can conclude that very few of the 237 individuals hired under previous administrations departed the Trump administration under normal circumstances. Typically, officials to be replaced are notified during the transition, or at least during the first few days of the new administration.

Departures by year

Trump’s first year in office saw the highest turnover, with 270 departures. Leaving out the committees, the number goes down to 154 departures but still has the highest turnover. Trump’s second year in office saw 139 people leave, 135 after leaving out the committee members. Trump’s third year in office has had the lowest turnover so far: only 80 top officials left during the past year. There are a couple of different explanations for the slowing turnover, which likely both contribute. First, the individuals who made it through Trump’s first and second years are likely either true believers in Trump’s “philosophy” or content to put up with another year of his antics. Second, Trump has not filled many positions that were previously vacated – there are simply fewer people to leave.

Manner Of Departure

To classify how each person departed the administration, I used three categories: fired, resigned, and resigned under pressure. In addition, there was no information available on the manner in which three individuals left, resulting in an ‘unknown’ category. The majority of the people, 307 (62.8%), who left the administration did so by resigning. An additional 107 (21.9%) of the departures are classified as resigning under pressure, meaning the official was pressured to resign, usually due to some controversy or scandal. Finally, 72 people (14.7%) were fired.

Departures by department

The Trump Gov Tracker contains departures across 53 departments and agencies.

 

9 of these departments/agencies are committees, like the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, The American Manufacturing Council, and The President’s Strategic and Policy Forum (which was created by Trump for CEOs of giant companies). All three committees saw large resignations in protest of Trump’s Charlottesville comments blaming “both sides” for the violence that left one dead (Table 1). Of the 489 total departures, 120 (24.5%) served on committees.

Committee Departures

NameDepartures (#)DateReason
AAPI: President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders161/20/2017 and 2/15/2017Resigned in protest of Trump’s Muslim ban and general policies towards refugees and immigrants
AMC: American Manufacturing Council278/14/2017 to 8/16/2017Many resigned in protest of Trump’s Charlottesville comments; then Trump disbanded it
DEBA: Digital Economy Board of Advisors108/17/2017All resigned in protest of Trump’s Charlottesville comments
HSAC: Homeland Security Advisory Council47/18/2018Resigned in protest of separating immigrant families at the border
NDC: National Diversity Coalition19/5/2017Resigned in protest of Trump's decisions to rescind DACA
NIAC: National Infrastructure Advisory Council88/22/2017Resigned in protest of Trump's Charlottesville comments & inattention to cybersecurity
PACHA: Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS186/13/2017 and 12/29/2017Many resigned in protest of Trump’s inattention to HIV issues; Trump then disbanded it
PCAH: President's Committee on the Arts & Humanities178/18/2017All resigned in protest of Trump’s Charlottesville comments
SPF: Strategic and Policy Forum198/16/2017Resigned in protest of Trump's Charlottesville comments

White House

Of the remaining 44 departments and agencies, the White House itself has had the highest number of total departures: 115 people, or 23.5% of the total list. 18 (15.7%) of these White House officials were fired, including National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert, and nine members of the National Security Council (see departures by position section below). 75 (6.2%) of the White House departures were resignations and 20 (17.4%) were resignations under pressure. Two White House officials left under unknown circumstances, both on the National Security Council and both at the end of April 2018. Not counting Anthony Scaramucci (who technically didn’t even make it to his start date), the shortest amount of time an individual hired by Trump lasted in the White House was 21 days: Gerrit Lansing, hired as the Chief Digital Officer, was forced to resign after failing to pass an FBI background check due to “investments.”

  • The high turnover at the Trump White House illustrates the struggle of finding employees to work for a volatile boss. Despite Trump’s claim that “everybody wants to work in the White House,” officials had to resort to a job fair in order to find candidates for employment. According to Politico, “a former Obama administration official said it would have been unheard of in the previous administration.”

The White House in Trump’s third year

Four individuals were fired from the White House during Trump’s third year in office: three National Security Council officials – National Security Adviser John Bolton, Deputy National Security Adviser Charles Kupperman, and Senior Director for European & Russian affairs Andrew Peek – and Director of Oval Office Operations Madeleine Westerhout, who also served as Trump’s personal assistant. Called “Trump’s gatekeeper,” Westerhout was fired after it was revealed that she spoke negatively about Trump’s daughters in front of reporters.

  • Westerhout’s name resurfaced months later in the House impeachment investigation of Donald Trump: in a documented paper trail, Westerhout put Rudy Giuliani in touch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the time that Giuliani was pursuing a smear campaign against Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Within two weeks of Giuliani and Pompeo’s conversation, Yovanovitch was recalled from her post.
  • Kupperman and Bolton were both requested to testify before the House impeachment panels at the end of 2019; Kupperman was even subpoenaed, but both refused to comply. Kupperman took the subpoena to court, though the case was dismissed after the House withdrew the subpoena.

The remainder of the departures from the White House over the past year were resignations: 18 individuals, including a communications director, press secretary, a cybersecurity director, and 5 National Security Council staffers (see position section below).

Justice Department

The department with the second-highest number of departures is the Justice Department, with 64 people or 13.1% of the total list. The majority of these individuals (44) were U.S. attorneys forced to resign all at once by AG Jeff Sessions at Donald Trump’s request. Of the remaining 20 officials, many were high profile departures, such as AG Jeff Sessions, Acting AG Sally Yates, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, Associate AG Rachel Brand, Associate Deputy AG Scott Schools, Deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe, Senior Counsel to the AG Matthew Whitaker, and Director of the FBI James Comey.

  • NPR characterized this high turnover as a “brain drain…at a time when it is under attack from President Trump and his allies in Congress.”

The Justice Department in Trump’s Third Year

Four top officials left the Justice Department in the past year. Matthew Whitaker, who served as acting-AG for a short period, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and Principal Associate Deputy AG Edward O’Callaghan resigned from their positions. The latter two – Rosenstein and O’Callaghan – played a key role in managing the Mueller investigation and the subsequent report’s release. One individual was fired from the Justice Department: In August 2019, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons Hugh Hurwitz was “removed” following Jeffrey Epstein’s death in federal custody.

State Department

The State Department has the third-highest number of departures on the list: 45 people, or 9.2% of the total. Nine were fired, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and key impeachment witnesses Marie Yovanovitch and William Taylor. Many of the 32 resignations were ambassadors who resigned over disagreements with Trump’s and/or Tillerson’s policies. For instance, Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson resigned in 2018 due to Trump’s antagonizing of the country and the chaos that gripped the State Department: 

Over the past three decades, successive American administrations have worked diligently to vanquish the anti-American DNA in Mexico. We were overcoming the suspicions that a history of invasion, territorial loss, and imperial intent had bequeathed. That kind of trust is slow to build, and remarkably easy to destroy. It is being destroyed now. NYT op-ed

The number of departures in the State Department would likely be higher if not for the large number of positions that have not been filled. For instance, as of January 2020, 21% of Senate-confirmable positions were unfilled in the State Department. This includes Ambassadors for Afghanistan, Canada, Chile, Cuba, Estonia, Japan, Malta, Pakistan, Qatar, and Ukraine, among others. The department is also lacking a permanent arms control expert, human rights expert, and Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian affairs (which includes Ukraine).

  • A 2019 report from the Government Accountability Office found that there are chronic overseas staffing vacancies that could negatively impact the security of U.S. embassies. Rex Tillerson’s time as Secretary of State is memorable for the “parade[s] of dismissals and early retirements,” as well as the decline in moral.
  • The State Department’s mission is compromised by “staff shortages, frequent turnover, poor leadership, and inexperienced and undertrained staff,” the department’s inspector general warned in a report surveying the fiscal 2019 year.

The State Department in Trump’s third year

In the past year, 15 top officials have left the State Department – making it the agency with the second-most departures during Trump’s third year. Some of these individuals were caught up in Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign and appeared before the House impeachment panels: in addition to Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and Acting-Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker resigned under pressure in September after Giuliani identified his role in “the three amigos,” and Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman resigned in October.

Defense Department

Overall, the Defense Department has had only 17 departures since Trump’s inauguration, making up 3.5% of the total. However, more than half of these top officials left the department in Trump’s third year in office. These officials include Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Acting-Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, and the second-highest Pentagon intelligence official Kari Bingen. Notably, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was fired in November 2019 for trying to prevent Trump from interfering in the Navy’s potential punishment of pardoned war criminal Eddie Gallagher. 

  • A recurring pattern: Defense departures would likely be higher if there weren’t so many vacancies. As of January 2020, 23% of Senate-confirmable positions were unfilled. Last year, the Senate was finally able to confirm a Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, after 204 days of acting fill-ins. 

Department of Homeland Security

Trump’s third year in office was marked by controversy over his immigration policies, such as his contentious decision to separate families at the southern border. This turmoil is reflected in the increased turnover in the Department of Homeland Security: 9 of the 13 total departures from DHS occurred in the past year. There have been three Secretaries of Homeland Security in the past year: Kirstjen Nielsen was forced out, replacement Kevin McAleenan resigned, and the current Secretary is Nielsen’s former Chief of Staff Chad Wolf. 

Turnover in Immigration-enforcement positions is examined below.

Departures by position

Another way to think about turnover is to look at the positions that have had numerous people leave in the past 3 years (excluding committees and councils).

This is where we can begin comparing the turnover to past administrations. There is no complete list of all departures for past administrations by year or by department – the data just does not exist on the internet at that great of detail. In this section and the cabinet section that follows, I will include comparisons for the data that we do have access to. Other media organizations have done similar comparisons using portions of the complete Trump data; those can be found in the Appendix.

Communications

Trump has famously had quite a few communications directors: six, in fact, making it the job with the highest turnover so far. In order from the beginning, the communications directors have been Sean Spicer, Mike Dubke, Anthony Scaramucci, Hope Hicks, Bill Shine, and currently Stephanie Grisham. In some cases, the job is combined with that of press secretary: Spicer held both titles for a period of time, as does Grisham currently. 

Scaramucci lasted the shortest time in the position at only 10 days (though, technically, he didn’t make it to the official start date), leading to the ‘mooch’ being used as a measurement of time

  • The White House has effectively killed the traditional White House press briefing in Trump’s third year in office. The last one was held 320 days ago by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on March 13, 2019. 
  • Comparison: In Obama’s first three years, the White House had three communications directors. George W. Bush only had two during his first three years in office. When expanded to the full two terms (eight years), Obama had five communications directors and Bush had four. Trump has had more communications directors than Obama in less than half of the time.

Deputy Chief of Staff

The Deputy Chief of Staff position has had an even higher rate of turnover, but it is not reflected on The Trump Gov Tracker because a number of the individuals went on to hold a different position in the administration. According to the rules of the spreadsheet, six Deputy Chiefs of Staff have resigned in Trump’s administration: Katie Walsh, Rick Dearborne, Jim Carroll, Joseph Hagin, Zachary Fuentes, and Daniel Walsh. However, Kirstjen Nielsen served in this position in 2017 before becoming Secretary of Homeland Security. Nielsen is therefore on the spreadsheet but under the last position she held. In sum, counting the current Deputy Chiefs of Staff, Trump has had 10 different people fill the role.

  • Comparison: During Obama’s eight years in office, only eight people served as Deputy Chief of Staff. Earlier administrations had even fewer, but partly because there were less Deputy Chief of Staff positions.
  • Former Deputy Chief of Staff Zachary Fuentes left the administration after it was reported that he “told White House colleagues that, after [John] Kelly’s departure, he intended to ‘hide out’ in an office building adjacent to the West Wing and remain on the payroll until the spring when he would take advantage of an early retirement program from the Coast Guard.”

Past and Current Deputy Chiefs of Staff

Last NameFirst NamePositionDate HiredDate LeftTime (days)Fired/Resigned /Resigned under pressureNotes
DearbornRickDeputy Chief for Policy1/20/20171/1/2018347Rformer senior Sessions staffer
LiddellChrisDeputy Chief for Policy3/19/2018present688currentno previous gov't experience - was CFO of GM
HaginJoseph W.Deputy Chief of Operations1/20/20177/15/2018542Rserved Reagan & Bushes for 14 years; was targeted by admin for ties to Bush family; accused of ties to Libyan backers of "sex cult"
WalshDanielDeputy Chief of Operations1/20/201712/1/20191046Rresigning to take a job in private sector after 28 years in gov't; organized most of Trump's rallies foreign trips
OrnatoTonyDeputy Chief of Operations12/7/2019present50+currentwas a Secret Service official
WalshKatiePrincipal Deputy Chief of Staff1/20/20173/30/201770R-UPwent on to work for pro-Trump group & RNC
NielsenKristjenPrincipal Deputy Chief of Staff9/6/201712/6/201792promotednominated to Secretary of Dept. of Homeland Security
CarrollJimPrincipal Deputy Chief of Staff12/1/20172/9/201871RChief of Staff Kelly dissatisfied w/ his performance; Nominated and confirmed to direct Office of Nat'l Drug Control Policy
FuentesZacharyPrincipal Deputy Chief of Staff6/6/20181/2/2019211R-UPresigned after it was revealed that he devised a plan to remain on the payroll despite essentially not working
DoyleEmmaPrincipal Deputy Chief of Staff1/3/2019present388+currenthas been strong ally to Chief of Staff Mulvaney

National Security Council

The Trump White House has lost 27 top officials of the National Security Council in the past three years. These include senior directors of policy areas like strategic planning and senior directors of policy regarding geographical regions like the Middle East. Notably, the position within the National Security Council with the highest turnover is the Senior Director for European and Russian affairs. The first two experts in the role, Fiona Hill and Tim Morrison, testified before the House impeachment panels. The third person, Andrew Peek, was placed on administrative leave and escorted from the White House by security on January 17, 2020. The circumstances around his departure remain unknown. 

Departures of NSC expert staffers

Last NameFirst NamePositionHired under Trump?* (Y/N)Date HiredDate LeftTotal Time (days)Time under Trump (days)Fired/Resigned /Resigned under pressureNotes
FleitzFredChief of StaffY4/27/201810/31/2018188188Rleaving to head the Center for Security Policy, an Islamaphobic group considered by Southern Poverty Law Center to be a hate group
JoyceRobCybersecurity CoordinatorY3/15/20175/11/2018423423Rhis position eliminated by Bolton; his boss, Tom Bossert, resigned a week earlier also due to Bolton
DahlTeraDeputy Chief of StaffY1/20/20177/6/2017168168R-UPformer Breitbart writer; Reassigned following power shift under McMaster.
RicardelMiraDeputy Nat Sec AdviserY5/15/201811/13/2018183183Fforced out by Melania, reportedly; previously worked in Dept of Commerce under Trump
GoldbergRichardDir. for Countering Iranian Weapons of Mass DestructionY1/7/20191/6/2020365365RGoldberg resigned to return to previous job at conservative think tank; his NSC job was created by Bolton to push for more hawkish stance towards Iran
HansenMilesDir. for Gulf AffairsY7/15/20177/5/2018356356Rresigned to work in private sector (WTC Utah); served in government for 7 years
SindleJamesDir. for LebanonN1/1/20176/30/2018545527?unclear why he left; it's speculated that Bolton pushed him out; start date is unknown
HigginsRichDir. For Strategic PlanningY1/20/20177/21/2017183183Ffired after arguing deep state attacks on Trump were Nat'l Sec issue
BellMichaelDir. of Middle East SectorY8/1/20177/10/2018344344Rresigned, perhaps under pressure from Bolton
AntonMichaelSpokesman & Dep. Asst. Strategic CommsY2/8/20174/30/2018447447Rto resign by end of April '18, into private sector; wrote essay in '16 advocating Trump presidency
HarveyDerekSr Dir Mid East AffairsY1/20/20177/27/2017189189Ffired by McMaster for disagreements; Iran war hawk appointed by Flynn
SpaldingRobertSr Dir Strategic PlanningY1/20/20171/31/2018377377Ftried to launch Nat'l 5G network
DeareCraigSr Dir W Hemisphere DivisionY1/20/20172/18/20173030Ffired after criticizing Trump's Latin America policy
AhmedRumanaSr. Advisor & Dep. AdvisorN6/15/20141/28/20179598Rresigned in protest of Trump's Muslim ban and general treatment of Muslims
TownleyRobinSr. Dir. for African AffairsY1/20/20172/10/20172222R-UPForced to resign b/c his security clearance was denied; top aide to Flynn
MatthewsEarlSr. Dir. for Defense Policy & StrategyY7/14/201811/8/2019483483Rattended several meetings now under scrutiny in the Ukraine/House impeachment inquiry
PeekAndrewSr. Dir. for European & Russian affairsY11/1/20191/17/20207878Fplaced on administrative leave and escorted from the White House - reasons unclear
HillFionaSr. Dir. for European & Russian affairsY3/15/20178/1/2019870870Runclear exactly why she is leaving; known for being tough on Russia, critical of Putin; to be replaced by Tim Morrison - a nuclear expert
MorrisonTimSr. Dir. for European & Russian affairsY7/15/201810/30/2019473473Rresigned on eve of testimony in impeachment inquiry; claims to have planned to leave for awhile; on NSC since July 2018 but promoted to Dir. of Russia affairs in Aug 2019
FontenroseKirstenSr. Dir. for Gulf AffairsY3/15/201811/16/2018247247Runclear exactly why she resigned, but she disagreed w/ her bosses about response to Saudi's killing of Khashoggi; she pushed for a harsh response; she previously worked for Cambridge Analytica
Cohen-WatnickEzraSr. Dir. for Intelligence ProgramY1/20/20178/2/2017195195R-UPfired by McMaster; Iran war hawk appointed by Flynn; took job @ Oracle
BarryMichaelSr. Dir. for Intelligence ProgramsY8/30/20177/31/2018336336Rresigned on "very good terms" to return to the CIA
ArangioJenniferSr. Dir. for Int'l Orgs & AlliancesY1/20/20177/12/2018539539Ffired & escorted out for defending refugees & opposing Stephen Miller's immigration policies; sbe fought against Miller's lies and distortion of statistics
RayburnJoelSr. Dir. for Iran, Iraq, Syria, and LebanonY1/27/20177/10/2018530530Rresigned, perhaps under pressure from Bolton
HookerRichardSr. Dir. For Russia, Europe, & NATOY1/25/20176/29/2018520520?unclear why he left; known Russia hawk - suspicious timing right before the Trump-Putin summit
MarquisGarrettSr. Dir. for Startegic CommsY5/29/20189/11/2019471471Rresigned after Bolton was forced out; has been working with Bolton for years; is trying to find other positions in gov't
ZiemerTimothySr. Dir. Global Health SecurityY7/20/20175/8/2018293474Rabruptly resigned; team he oversaw dissolved, on 1st day of a new Ebola outbreak in Congo

In addition to the above expert staffers, the National Security Council also has cabinet- and executive-level members. Of these regular attendees, the Trump administration has lost 15 regular attendees of the Principals Committee. Two of these individuals – Mike Pompeo and Jonathan Cohen – changed jobs but stayed in the administration. Due to multiple people leaving the same role, the turnover of regular members of the Principals Committee is higher than the total positions in the category (12). 

Departures from the NSC Principals Committee

Last NameFirst NamePositionDate HiredDate LeftTotal Time (days)Fired/Resigned /Resigned under pressureNotes
FlynnMichaelNational Security Adviser1/20/20172/13/201725R-UPForced to resign after lying about contact w/ Russians
McMasterH.R.National Security Adviser2/20/20174/9/2018414FTrump complained he was too rigid & his briefings too long
BoltonJohnNational Security Adviser4/9/20189/10/2019520Fforced out by Trump due to too many disagreements, according to Trump
TillersonRexSecretary of State2/1/20173/13/2018406FFired 1 days after publicly supporting add'l sanctions against Russia
MattisJimSecretary of Defense1/20/201712/31/2018711Rresigned in protest (+ forced out early) of Trump's decision to remove troops from Syria & Trump's rejection of international alliances.
PerryRickSecretary of Energy3/2/201712/1/20191,005RPerry resigned amidst questions about his role in Trump's pressure campaign on Ukraine
CoatsDanDirector of National Intelligence3/16/20178/15/2019883R-UPForced out by Trump, who was upset w/ Coats for public crticism & contradicting him; to be replaced by Rep. Ratcliffe
BossertTomHomeland Security Advisor1/20/20174/10/2018446FNew Nat Sec Advisor Bolton "asked" him to resign
SessionsJeffAttorney General2/8/201711/8/2018639Fforced to resign by Trump immediately after the midterms
WhitakerMatthewAttorney General (acting)11/7/20183/2/2019116RReplaced as acting AG on 2/14/2019 & took job as senior counselor to AG Barr; unclear why he left DOJ
PriebusReinceChief of Staff1/20/20177/31/2017193R-UPLeft amid accusations that he was leaking info to the media
KellyJohnChief of Staff7/29/201712/31/2018521R-UPleaving because his relationship w/ Trump has deteriorated to the point that they aren't on speaking terms anymore
HaleyNikkiUS Ambassador to the UN1/27/201712/31/2018704Rtendered resignation a day after an anti-corruption watchdog accused her of accepting seven luxury private plane trips as gifts from South Carolina business leaders
PompeoMikeDirector of the CIA1/23/20174/26/2018459CHANGED POSITIONnow Secretary of State
CohenJonathanUS Ambassador to the UN1/1/20199/12/2019255CHANGED POSITIONnow U.S.Ambassador to Egypt

Immigration Enforcement: ICE and Border Protection

There have been five acting-Directors of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during Trump’s tenure, including one who served as acting-Director twice when his replacement Trump’s first two acting-Directors of ICE, Daniel Ragsdale and Thomas Homan, were rather unmemorable. Trump’s third acting-Director, Ronald Vitiello, was nominated for the position but pulled by Trump in April 2019 because the president wanted the department to go “in a tougher direction.” As The New York Times reported, Vitiello was against the White House’s proposal to close the border.

The fourth acting-Director, Matthew Albence, served a little more than a month before Trump placed Mark Morgan in the position. Morgan is an immigration hard-liner who appeared on Fox News to push nationwide raids to deport undocumented families. After another month, Trump shuffled the leadership again – moving Morgan to acting-Customs and Border Protection Commissioner and promoting Albence back to acting-Director of ICE.

  • Comparison: In Obama’s eight years, there were only five Directors of ICE, two of which were Senate-confirmed (i.e. not acting-Directors). Trump has yet to have a Director of ICE be confirmed by the Senate. Counting the current acting-Director, Trump has had the same number of Directors of ICE in three years as Obama had in eight.

Current and Former Directors of ICE

Last NameFirst NameStart dateEnd dateTime (days)Fired/Resigned /Resigned under pressureNotes
RagsdaleDaniel1/20/20171/30/201711Fwas fired by Trump at the same time as Sally Yates - unclear why; retained lower position in ICE until May then resigned
HomanThomas1/30/20176/29/2018516Rwas nominated to permanently fill position, but was opposed by Congress due to hardline immigration policies; retired
VitielloRonald6/30/20184/12/2019287R-UPpushed out in DHS purge; was nominated to permanently head ICE but Trump withdrew nomination saying he wanted a "tougher direction"
AlbenceMatthew4/13/20195/27/201945stepped downfilled in after Vitiello's departure
MorganMark5/28/20197/5/201939shifted positionswas head of Border Patrol until forced out by Trump - rehabbed his image on Fox News; moved to Customs & Border Protection after ICE
AlbenceMatthew7/5/2019present205+currently employed

Dis-honorable mention: Scientists

One of the most under-reported topics of the Trump era is the administration’s systematic war on science. Using a combination of direct firings, indirect pressure tactics like shipping employees to the middle of nowhere, and general discouragement through policy decisions and workplace conditions, the Trump administration has seen an unprecedented exodus of scientists. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these departures are not included in the spreadsheet because scientists are rarely in high-level management roles. 

To shine a light on the science crisis under the Trump administration, I’m including a brief review of studies conducted using other data. 

First, employment data collected by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and analyzed by The Washington Post revealed that more than 1,600 federal scientists left government during Trump’s first two years in office. At the Environmental Protection Agency specifically, OPM data shows that nearly 700 scientists have left in the past three years, yet the EPA has hired only 350 replacements.

Second, the Trump administration has been quietly disbanding scientific advisory committees, whose members are the foremost experts in their fields. For instance, in 2018 the EPA disbanded the Particulate Matter Review Panel, which is responsible for assisting the agency to analyze air quality and determine which pollutants are safe and unsafe. In 2017, Trump disbanded a key group for managing and preventing large-scale natural disasters: the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment

Finally, the Union of Concerned Scientists surveyed more than 63,000 scientific experts employed by the federal government in 2018:

Staffing at the EPA, for example, is at its lowest level in 20 years—and the Trump budget calls for a further reduction…Federal scientists describe a broad range of problems, including workforce cuts, censorship and self-censorship, political interference, and undue industry influence. Unsurprisingly, these problems have taken a toll on morale, making it hard for scientists to do their jobs effectively.

Cabinet departures

One of the easiest ways to compare turnover between administrations is through their cabinet members. Trump has lost 18 people across 22 cabinet positions, meaning there has been an 81.8% turnover rate in the first 3 years (Table 3). Note that this includes the Chief of Staff position as part of his cabinet, does not include the three failed nominations for cabinet positions, and does not count Mike Pompeo because he has shuffled position while still remaining in the cabinet.

  • There are differences between administrations that make direct comparison difficult. Obama did not include the Directors of the CIA and National Intelligence in his cabinet as Trump has. Likewise, Obama’s cabinet included the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, while Trump’s does not. With these adjustments, there are 21 positions in common between the Trump and Obama cabinets.

Cabinet-level Departures

NamePositionTime (in days)Resigned/fired
Nikki HaleyAmbassador to the United Nations704Resigned: Unknown why
Jeff SessionsAttorney General639Fired
Reince PriebusChief of Staff193Resigned under pressure
John KellyChief of Staff521Resigned under pressure
Dan CoatsDir of National Intelligence886Resigned under pressure
Mick MulvaneyDir of Office of Management & Budget685Promoted
Scott PruittEPA Administrator503Resigned under pressure
Jim MattisSecretary of Defense770Resigned in protest
Rick PerrySecretary of Energy1005Resigned
Tom PriceSecretary of Health & Human Services232Resigned under pressure
John KellySecretary of Homeland Security521Promoted
Kirstjen NielsenSecretary of Homeland Security491Resigned under pressure
Kevin McAleenanSecretary of Homeland Security184Resigned
Alex AcostaSecretary of Labor813Resigned under pressure
Rex TillersonSecretary of State406Fired
Ryan ZinkeSecretary of the Interior661Resigned under pressure
David ShulkinSecretary of Veterans Affairs408Fired
Linda McMahonSmall Business Administrator788Resigned: Unknown why

Failed Cabinet Nominations

NamePositionTime (in days)Resigned/fired
Andrew PuzderNominee: Secretary of Labor70WITHDRAWN
Ronny JacksonNominee: Secretary of Veterans Affairs30WITHDRAWN
John RatcliffeNominee: Director of Nat'l Intelligence6WITHDRAWN
Heather NauertNominee: Ambassador to UN72WITHDRAWN

Comparison: During Obama’s first four years in office, eight cabinet members departed: Two Secretaries of Defense, two Secretaries of Commerce, two Chiefs of Staff, and two Directors of the Office of Management and Budget. Using these numbers, Obama had a cabinet turnover rate of 38.1% during his first four-year term. Trump has thus had more than double the cabinet turnover in three years as Obama had in four. 

Comparison: Using slightly different numbers, because administrations farther back than Obama had varying cabinet members, we can compare a portion of Trump’s cabinet turnover to those as far back as Reagan. Counting only the heads of federal executive departments that are in the presidential line of succession, Trump has had 10 cabinet member departures; Obama had 3 in his first four years in office; W. Bush had 2; Clinton had 4; H.W. Bush had 8; Reagan had 6.

Acting cabinet

It is also worth briefly noting the high number of acting cabinet officials Trump has had. According to an analysis from April 2019, The Washington Post  found that “more than a fifth of Trump’s presidency has seen departments run by acting heads.” A department has been led by an acting director for 388 days on average (cumulative) in each of the years of Trump’s presidency.

Compare this to Obama’s agencies, which spent about 150 cumulative days on average in each of the years of his presidency. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have even smaller figures: between 50-75 cumulative days on average. A more recent analysis from November 2019 determined that Trump had 28 acting cabinet secretaries in his first 2.5 years – more than the 27 total during Bill Clinton’s eight years in office and the 23 over Obama’s eight years.

  • According to NPR, this reliance on acting officials is troubling because it avoids public vetting: It “amounts to an end-around of the Senate, which under the U.S. Constitution has a role to advise and consent to the president’s appointments.”

Conclusion

The record-high turnover of Trump’s administration is indicative of the chaotic and destructive nature of his presidency. With the help of some amazing volunteers, The Trump Gov Tracker was turned into a website: www.45chaos.com. The name was chosen because the ultimate purpose of the departures list is to quantify the disorienting experience of being a citizen of the United States under President Trump, when all norms are abandoned and our once-rock-solid institutions seem to be disintegrating before our eyes. My hope is that post-2020 we can look back on this list as a reminder of what can happen if we let apathy and disinformation infect our democracy.

 

APPENDIX

Other comparisons

The New York Times compared Trump’s cabinet turnover plus the turnover of six White House positions and found:

Nine of these positions had turned over at least once during the Trump administration, compared with three at the same point of the Clinton administration, two under President Barack Obama and one under President George W. Bush.

538 compared Trump’s cabinet turnover to past administrations:

Through this point in their presidencies, none of the preceding six presidents had weathered more turnover in the 24 offices that constitute Trump’s Cabinet1 than Trump has.

The Center for Presidential Transition analyzed the highest-ranking positions and compared the turnover to past administrations:

President Donald Trump has lost 41% of the Cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries and under secretaries he appointed in his first year in office…This far outpaces the turnover rate for recent predecessors at the same stage of their presidencies — and underscores the challenges Trump may face in recruiting and retaining a new stable of top officials if he wins re-election.

Number of departures in each agency/department

Agency/DeptFirst yearSecond yearThird yearTotal
AAPI (Cmte)1616
AMC (Cmte)2727
Bureau of Indian Affairs11
Census Bureau11
Centers for Disease Control11
Central Intelligence Agency11
CNCS11
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau1113
DEBA (Cmte)1010
Customs/Border Patrol112
Dept of Agriculture112
Dept of Commerce3126
Dept of Defense17917
Dept of Education11
Dept of Energy112
Dept of Health & Human Services235
Dept of Homeland Security22913
Dept Housing & Urban Dev.145
Dept of Interior2316
Dept of Justice4911464
Dept of Labor22
Dept of State18121545
Dept of Treasury2215
Dept of Veteran’s Affairs1315
Drug Enforcement Administration11
Elections Asst. Commission11
Environmental Protection Agency314118
Federal Bureau of Investigations617
Federal Deposit Insurance Corp11
Federal Reserve112
FEMA22
Fish & Wildlife Service11
Food and Drug Administration11
Forest Service11
HSAC (Cmte)44
Immigration & Customs Enforcement2215
Interagency Council on Homelessness11
International Trade Centre11
NASA112
Nat'l Endowment for the Humanities11
National Intelligence22
Nat’l Parks Service1010
NDC (Cmte)11
NIAC (Cmte)88
Office of Personnel Management11
PACHA (Cmte)1818
Patent Office11
PCAH (Cmte)1717
Public Health Service11
SPF (Cmte)1919
Trump (personal)224
US Geological Survey112
White House435022115
Total27013980489


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