President Trump, who still has hundreds of senior level positions to fill at nearly every federal agency, told interviewers last week that "you don't need all those jobs."
But even if that's the case, simply leaving posts vacant may not be the best way to accomplish what adviser Stephen Bannon referred to as "deconstructing the administrative state."
Some 1,100 political positions require Senate confirmation, and so far Trump has nominated just a handful. None of the deputy secretaries or undersecretaries at the Department of State have been named, for instance.
At the Pentagon, the No. 3 job, undersecretary for policy, remains unfilled. At Homeland Security, two key posts overseeing Trump's immigration crackdown — the directors of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, are held by acting directors. Trump has yet to name a FEMA director or TSA administrator.
Other high level posts at the Treasury, the Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services are likewise filled by acting heads or remain vacant.
Paul Light, professor of public service at NYU, calls this a "neckless government"; many agency heads are in place, but "you're missing all those positions between the Cabinet secretaries, and the sort of day-to-day work of government. The result, Light says: "government is basically frozen."
Maybe the president wants it that way.
After all, he told Fox News last week, he doesn't want to fill "a lot of those jobs ... (because) they're unnecessary. It's people, over people, over people. I say, what do all those people do? You don't need all those jobs."
Light agrees the federal leadership hierarchy "has been thickening, president after president, for the last 50 years." But, he adds, Trump is making a mistake if he thinks that leaving many of these positions open "is going to enhance control of his government. It isn't."
And it is not "deconstructing the administrative state."
Joseph Postell, assistant professor of political science at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, has written about that term. He says there is no clear definition of the administrative state. "It's typically used to describe over-regulation, and sometimes it's used to describe the rise of administrative agencies and the number of agencies that we have."
It's not just a fancy name for bureaucracy.
Postell says those who use the term — mostly conservatives — view the issue more as "a structural or constitutional problem that has to do with agencies being able to make law," as opposed to where laws are supposed to be made, in Congress.
What Bannon means by the phrase "deconstructing the administrative state," a term he used at the CPAC conference last month, is not clear.
But Postell says dismantling the administrative state will require acts of Congress and won't be achieved simply by leaving important government posts unfilled.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
President Trump has yet to fill hundreds of senior-level positions throughout the government. He's questioned the need for, as he put it, all those jobs, but simply leaving post vacant may not be the best way to accomplish what his adviser Stephen Bannon has called deconstructing the administrative state. NPR's Brian Naylor has more.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: When he spoke last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference, chief White House strategist Steve Bannon laid out three goals of the Trump presidency - national security and sovereignty, economic nationalism and this.
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STEPHEN BANNON: The third, broadly, line to walk is what is deconstruction of the administrative state.
NAYLOR: Let's deconstruct that term for a moment.
JOSEPH POSTELL: The term administrative state is typically used to describe overregulation.
NAYLOR: Joseph Postell teaches political science at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and has written about the topic.
POSTELL: Sometimes it's even used to describe the rise of administrative agencies and the number of agencies that we have.
NAYLOR: There are some 1,100 executive branch jobs that require Senate confirmation, and so far Trump has nominated just a handful. For instance, none of the deputy secretaries or undersecretaries at the Department of State have been named. The number three job at the Pentagon is unfilled. Two key posts overseeing Trump's immigration crackdown are held by acting directors. No FEMA director or TSA administrator has been named. And other high level posts at the Treasury, the Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services also remain vacant. Paul Light, a professor of public service at NYU, calls this a necklace government. The agency heads are in place, but little more.
PAUL LIGHT: When you have a necklace government, when you're missing all those positions between the Cabinet secretaries and the sort of day-to-day work of government, government is basically frozen.
NAYLOR: But maybe the president wants it that way. This is what he told Fox News Channel's "Fox & Friends" last week.
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DONALD TRUMP: A lot of those jobs I don't want to appoint because they're unnecessary to have. You know, we have so many people in government, even me - I look at some of the jobs, and it's people over people over people. I say - what do all these people do? You don't need all those jobs.
NAYLOR: Light says the federal leadership hierarchy has been thickening, as he puts it, for the last 50 years. But he adds if Trump wants to change that, he's going about it the wrong way.
LIGHT: He's making a mistake if he thinks that leaving many of these positions open is going to enhance his control of government. It doesn't. I'm a believer in flattening the federal hierarchy, but I do not think you do it by accident.
NAYLOR: Joseph Postell says administrative state critics believe that federal agencies have grown too big and also have too much power, including the power to essentially write their own laws. He notes this is not new.
POSTELL: The size of government and the amount of regulation that we have in America has always been an object of dispute, going all the way back to Hamilton and Jefferson in the 1790s. What has changed that is given rise to the administrative state is essentially the accumulation of all these powers in the hands of people who are not directly elected by the people.
NAYLOR: So it may be that Trump is trying to return power to lawmakers from what critics often call unelected bureaucrats. But Postell says dismantling the administrative state requires Congress to act to rein in agencies and won't be achieved simply by leaving important government posts unfilled. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.