What John Bolton Resignation Reveals About Working For Trump The ouster of national security adviser John Bolton again highlights the large number of vacancies at the top levels of the Trump administration.
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'I Wasn't Naive': Getting Fired In The Trump Administration

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'I Wasn't Naive': Getting Fired In The Trump Administration

'I Wasn't Naive': Getting Fired In The Trump Administration

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To work at the pleasure of President Trump means never knowing when your last day may come or whether you will leave on your own terms. National Security Adviser John Bolton's resignation is just the latest example, and as NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports, it is taking the president longer to fill those high-level vacancies.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: When former Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein woke up on the morning of March 13, 2018, he didn't know he was about to be fired. He went to the gym and rode 13,000 meters on the indoor rower, the longest he had ever done.

(SOUNDBITE OF CNN BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

KEITH: Then things went south.

(SOUNDBITE OF CNN BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS ANCHOR #1: There is major breaking news this morning from the Trump administration. Just moments ago, the president announced that Rex Tillerson is out as secretary of state. Ousted would be more accurate here.

KEITH: After Goldstein's boss was fired by tweet, he put out a statement on Tillerson's behalf disputing the White House account. And then...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS ANCHOR #2: Fallout now from the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The White House has now fired a State Department spokesman.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: I think when you first get fired...

KEITH: This is Goldstein.

GOLDSTEIN: ...And especially in my case, where I saw it unfold on CNN and then got a call from the White House, it is rather shocking.

KEITH: He had only been on the job for three months.

GOLDSTEIN: You know going into it that that can happen. I mean, I wasn't naive to this. And honestly, it is the purview of the president to have whomever he or she chooses to have work for them.

KEITH: For those who answer the call to serve in the Trump administration, the experience can come to an abrupt and humiliating end. Perhaps as a result, an NPR analysis finds, there has been a dramatic uptick in the time it takes the Trump administration to fill cabinet and high-level vacancies, and there has been a proliferation of people in acting roles with no end in sight.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And acting gives you great flexibility that you don't have with permanent, so I'm OK with the word acting. But when I like people, I make them permanent, but I can leave acting for a long period of time.

KEITH: And he has.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

TRUMP: Acting secretary of the army.

Acting FEMA administrator.

Acting director of National Intelligence.

Acting secretary of the Air Force.

Acting administrator of the Small Business Administration.

Our acting secretary Kevin McAleenan.

KEITH: Since the forced resignation of the VA secretary in late March 2018, none of the cabinet-level vacancies have had new leaders confirmed in fewer than 90 days. It is taking Trump longer to name successors for ousted aides and agency heads, and several of his initial picks have had to withdraw. Of the departures announced in the past five months, only one has a successor named and formally nominated, despite Trump's claims to have people clamoring to join the team.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We have a lot of people that want the job chief of staff, so we'll be seeing what happens very soon.

KEITH: Trump still hasn't announced a permanent chief of staff. Instead, budget director Mick Mulvaney has been doing the job in an acting capacity for 272 days, and that's not even the longest vacancy.

KATHRYN DUNN TENPAS: There's never been this many acting simultaneously in these highly visible positions.

KEITH: Kathryn Dunn Tenpas is a researcher who specializes in White House staff turnover at The Brookings Institution. She says it appears there are very few people with the right experience who would want to work for Trump.

DUNN TENPAS: That in combination with his impulsive nature and his tendency to fire people more than any other president that I've studied means that there's going to be a lot of turnover and there's going to be vacancies for a long period of time.

KEITH: Steve Goldstein says he gets asked almost every day...

GOLDSTEIN: Why did I do this?

KEITH: And the answer is he felt like the work was important.

GOLDSTEIN: I do fundamentally believe that you have an obligation to serve your country.

KEITH: Nearly a year and a half later, there still hasn't been anyone nominated to fill Goldstein's old job.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House.

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