When Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president in 1981, his loyalists had a saying: “Personnel is policy”. The idea was that implementing policy was dependent on having staff committed to the executive’s ideals.
That concept is still salient today, both in Washington, D.C., and in Idaho.
Idaho Gov.-elect Brad Little has been busy as a bee selecting his personal staff and filling his cabinet positions. It is clear he is focused on pulling quality people into his administration.
In contrast, President Trump has mightily struggled to attract and retain reasonably competent people.
Little set the direction for his team by appointing a blue-chip transition committee consisting of a former Idaho secretary of state, a former school superintendent, seven business people, a rancher, a former first lady, the head of the Professional Firefighters of Idaho, a couple of attorneys and several former executive branch personnel.
In contrast, Trump’s tenure started out rocky with a team heavily filled with second and third rate talent and has gotten worse with many executive branch positions still unfilled two years in.
Little chose as his chief of staff Zach Hague, who he had bonded with as his campaign manager. Hague had a tenure with IACI, the influential business lobby, and he knows politics and industry.
Trump is now on chief of staff No. 3. He clashed with the first two, Reince Priebus and John Kelley, neither of whom was a loyal Trump enthusiast. His recent pick of Mick Mulvaney only occurred after the job was turned down by Pence’s chief of staff, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and others. It is not good when people turn down the premier executive branch position,
Little’s budget chief will be Alex Adams, the successful current executive director of the Idaho State Board of Pharmacy.
Tom Kealey is Little’s pick to be the director of the Idaho Department of Commerce, which plays a key role in attracting industry. Kelley formerly worked at Morrison-Knudsen as an executive and owns restaurant chain. He knows business.
McCammon State Rep. Kelley Packer will head the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licenses, which regulates a host of Idaho professions. Little previously signed an executive order to have each regulatory body reevaluate its requirements to join a profession and maintain a license. Packer will play a role in determining whether to strengthen or loosen such requirements and her legislative experience will help in getting buy-in from the Idaho Legislature.
Contrast Brad Little’s solid personnel efforts with those currently rocking the Trump administration.
After the election, Trump fired the attorney general and his interim pick has declined to recuse himself despite being urged to do so by ethics counsel.
Montana native Ryan Zinke just was pushed out as Interior Secretary because of a host of ethical lapses. He follows in the step of an EPA head and agriculture secretary who left under similar clouds.
The latest bombshell was the resignation of highly respected Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. In a letter to Trump last week, he explained why:
My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held . . . Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.
Mattis’ rebuke did grave damage to Trump’s credibility on foreign policy and defense issues. It is a damning indictment when your former advisors question your approach.
Personnel are truly the key to successful policy implementation. Little’s successes in recruiting are a harbinger of success in implementing his policy goals. Trump will continue to flounder as long as he struggles to attract talent.