American Oversight has uncovered the identities, job titles, and resumes of hundreds of political appointees that the Trump administration has installed at cabinet agencies across the government – and that information has been helping journalists investigate and cover the workings of the administration.
While cabinet secretaries get a lot of attention — and Senate confirmation hearings are scrutinized — most lower-level political appointees can be hired without any checks or oversight. As a result, the Trump administration has been able to hire dozens of people with connections to the Trump campaign or family, former lobbyists who are now working in the agencies that regulate their old industries, and inexperienced, junior staff who now hold high-level positions.
American Oversight obtained resumes of President Trump’s appointees for Health and Human Services (HHS). These resumes show that many new HHS employees have connections to drug companies. A report by Kaiser Health News published in The Daily Beast drew in part on resumes we obtained which revealed that more than a dozen appointees had worked as lobbyists, consultants, and lawyers on behalf of pharmaceutical firms.
Nearly 340 former congressional staffers now work for pharmaceutical companies or their lobbying firms, according to data analyzed by KHN and provided by Legistorm, a nonpartisan congressional research company. On the flip side, the analysis showed, more than a dozen former drug industry employees now have jobs on Capitol Hill—often on committees that handle health care policy.
“Who do they really work for?” said Jock Friedly, Legistorm’s president and founder, who called that quantity “substantial.” “Are they working for the person who is paying their bills at that moment or are they essentially working on behalf of the interests who have funded them in the past and may fund them in the future?”
The HHS resumes also reveal that many appointees have anti-choice beliefs that are reflected in their work backgrounds. Now these appointees are in a position where they can influence policies related to birth control and abortion. For example, Matthew Bowman, deputy counsel for HHS, described himself as a “full-time pro-life volunteer” on his resume and argued against the birth control mandate in his previous position. In his role at HHS, he can work to undo the protections to birth control coverage established in the previous administration.
According to Politico, the rise of religious-activist appointees is already having an effect, as the agency started implementing protections for medical professionals who want to opt out of certain procedures, which could impact abortion and transgender care.
Resumes also show connections to Vice President Mike Pence, and former secretary Tom Price, and many held previous positions that worked on the effort to repeal the ACA, or Obamacare. It is clear that what the Trump administration cares about is not relevant work experience but the values their employees hold that will shape policy and push a certain agenda.
Similarly, Roll Call analyzed the resumes and found that at least 16 staffers with ties to Tom Price and at least 12 have connections to Mike Pence. And a number of staffers also have ties to conservative groups associated with Pence, such as the Heritage Foundation and anti-abortion organizations.
Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) resumes tell a different story. A top trade position was filled by a less-qualified, junior staffer with limited experience in trade issues. This appointment is especially problematic at a time when the Trump administration has decided to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and is instituting new tariffs and trade barriers. The decision is less of a reflection on the junior staffer and more on the administration as a whole. Many vacancies in the agency are being filled by younger, less qualified individuals.
Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative, is relying on a small group of relatively unseasoned officials to advance a complex agenda, including renegotiating landmark free trade deals and cracking down on allegedly unfair practices by China, Mexico, and other major global economic partners. None have drawn more scrutiny and attention within the trade policy community than G. Payne Griffin, Lighthizer’s deputy chief of staff.
Few, if anyone, in trade circles knew of Griffin prior to his appointment by Lighthizer. That’s because, prior to his appointment by Lighthizer, Griffin was not in trade circles. Griffin attended American University where, by all accounts, he was an exemplary student. He graduated with a bachelors in economics and political science in 2014 and made the Dean’s List. His first job out of college was as a staff assistant for Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL). By January 2015, he was a legislative correspondent for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a job that typically involves corresponding with constituents and helping senior staff craft policy.
Disturbingly, almost the same thing happened at the Office of National Drug Control Policy. With the nation in the midst of a devastating opioid addiction epidemic, a 24-year-old with connections to the Trump campaign was given a top drug policy job in the White House. The Washington Post report on this appointment cited a resume uncovered by American Oversight:
In May 2016, Taylor Weyeneth was an undergraduate at St. John’s University in New York, a legal studies student and fraternity member who organized a golf tournament and other events to raise money for veterans and their families.
Less than a year later, at 23, Weyeneth, was a political appointee and rising star at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the White House office responsible for coordinating the federal government’s multibillion dollar anti-drug initiatives and supporting President Trump’s efforts to curb the opioid epidemic. Weyeneth would soon become deputy chief of staff.
Following the report, the appointee announced that he would resign, highlighting the importance of holding the Trump administration accountable for who they hire into senior-level jobs — including those that do not need to be confirmed by the Senate.
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