By Austin Nolen
Over one year into his presidency, Donald Trump still lags behind his predecessors in terms of the number of political appointees he has installed in key positions nationwide.
Philadelphia, as a major city in the mid-Atlantic region, is home to a large number of regional agency offices that can be led by political appointees. Philadelphia is also home to a large number of federal judges.
But a review by The Declaration shows that Trump has yet to install many of his own nominees for these positions.
The President has several options with which to appoint key personnel that can steer the federal government in his preferred direction. The most important appointments, those who head agencies as well as those who serve as judges, require Senate confirmation.
Certain other positions, however, are appointed directly by the President without Senate approval. Federal agency heads can also make a limited number of their own political appointments without reference to civil service principles.
Those agency appointments are often made at the request of the President, serving effectively as Presidential appointments.
Trump’s influence in Philadelphia-based government offices has been felt least where Senate appointment is required.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which prosecutes federal crimes committed in the southeast corner of the state, is normally led by a Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorney.
However, the last Senate-confirmed leader of the office, Zane David Memeger, resigned in advance of Trump’s inauguration, and his first assistant Louis Lappen has been in control ever since.
A year after Memeger resigned, Trump nominated former prosecutor William McSwain to lead the office, but McSwain has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.
At the other Philadelphia law enforcement agency headed by a Senate-confirmed appointee, the U.S. Marshals Service for the Eastern District, Obama appointee David B. Webb still holds office.
Even in judicial nominations, the one area in which the President has had more luck in dealing with the Senate, his imprint on Philadelphia remains minimal.
Only one Trump nominee currently sits on the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which is located in Philadelphia and hears appeals from federal district courts in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
In contrast, other Courts of Appeal include multiple Trump appointees, including the Sixth and Eighth Circuits, which both have three sitting Trump appointees and more awaiting confirmation.
Meanwhile, there are no Trump appointees serving as judges in the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which hears criminal and civil cases arising from the same southeastern counties covered by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The President nominated Chad F. Kenney, currently a Delaware County judge, for a position on the District Court in December, but there has been no action yet on Kenney’s nomination.
Trump’s greatest influence on Philadelphia’s federal offices has been in areas where the Senate’s approval is not necessary, in appointments that are made by agencies at the President’s direction.
These appointments are usually for Philadelphia-based positions overseeing agency operations in the mid-Atlantic region, commonly described by federal agencies as Region 3.
Last month, former Pennsylvania Republican politician Matt Baker was appointed as Regional Director for the Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for coordinating federal health efforts with state and local partners in the region.
Several days later, Michelle Christian was appointed to be Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator for the Small Business Administration, a position in charge of grants to small business in the area
Trump has made similar appointments to regional positions to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development
Former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection official Cosmo Servidio was appointed to lead EPA’s regional enforcement of environmental laws.
President Trump also selected former Philadelphia Republican Party Chairman Joe DeFelice to lead HUD’s regional office.
Even among these high-level regional positions, however, Trump faces limits on his appointment power.
According to a spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, seven out of the agency’s ten regional administrators are political appointees, but the employee who has been in charge of Region 3 in Philadelphia since 2010 is a career employee.
Many of the regional appointments are positions in what as known as the Senior Executive Service, a class of federal employees serving in between agency leaders and the rank and file.
About half of SES positions are strictly reserved for employees appointed on the basis of merit under civil service principles.
The other half of SES positions are described as “general” positions, and can be filled by either political appointees or by civil servants.
Many regional director or administrator positions are general positions, which theoretically allows Trump to make political appointments to any of those jobs.
However, the number of political appointees is limited to ten percent of SES employees government-wide, and as a result, most general SES employees, including some regional administrators at other agencies in Philadelphia, such as FEMA, are civil servants.
Once a career civil servant is installed in such a position, they can only be removed based on misconduct or poor performance, limiting the president’s ability to install a political appointee in that position.
As a result, Trump cannot install a political appointee to lead FEMA in Philadelphia, even though he could do so in most other regions of the country.