Federal

With Key Positions Still Open, Staffing at Ed. Dept. Lags

By Alyson Klein — October 24, 2017 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Eight months into his term, President Donald Trump is finally picking up the pace of nominating staff members to serve in the top ranks of the U.S. Department of Education. But he’s still way behind the Obama administration in filling the agency’s vacancies.

By this point in 2009, Obama had announced a nominee for every K-12 position in the department that requires Senate confirmation, an Education Week analysis has found. Trump, by contrast, has only tapped five of the dozen or so key players he needs to run the department.

So far, Trump has picked Mick Zais, a former South Carolina state chief, for deputy secretary; Jim Blew, a former state advocate who used to run the Walton Family Foundation, for assistant secretary of planning, evaluation, and policy analysis; Peter Oppenheim, a former aide to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., for congressional relations; Tim Kelly, a Michigan state lawmaker, for career and technical education; and Carlos G. Muñiz, a former Florida deputy attorney general, as general counsel.

But other key positions, including the assistant secretaries for elementary and secondary education and civil rights, are being filled by temporary players. Both of those positions were filled within the first several months of the Obama administration.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos blames the slow pace in part on paperwork delays.

“I’ve made decisions and the president has signed off on many of those decisions,” she said in an interview. “It’s the process of paperwork with the FBI and the [office of government ethics] that has taken months and months and months.”

The vacancies have placed extra stress on the staff already in place, she added.

Heavy on State-Level Experience

Nearly all the people named to top posts at the department so far have some sort of experience at the state level, said Andy Smarick, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington.

Zais is a former South Carolina state chief. Kelly is a state lawmaker. Muñiz worked as deputy attorney general in Florida. Blew has worked at state-level advocacy organizations, including 50CAN and StudentsFirst, a state level organization started by former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

And even Oppenheim, who spent much of his career on Capitol Hill, worked to give states more influence over K-12 policy as a key aide writing the Every Student Succeeds Act.

“Every other administration I know in Washington, they hired a lot of people who were part of the D.C. orbit,” said Smarick, who worked in the department during President George W. Bush’s administration. By contrast, “they are loading up on people with state-level experience. So the question becomes ‘what are they going to do with all of that experience. Everyone in high-level meetings may say ‘let’s trust states.’ ” Or, he said, they may use their state-level contacts to champion choice at the local level.

Another connecting theme: ties to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. DeVos herself used to sit on the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the research and advocacy organization Gov. Bush started. Zais was a vocal supporter of Bush’s 2016 presidential bid. Carlos Muñiz, the nominee for general counsel, worked for Bush as a deputy general counsel.

Some of the usual suspects in Washington didn’t want to join the Trump administration or work for a secretary as controversial as DeVos.

“There’s a lot of anxiety around what this administration is going to bring, and some people may think it’s pretty risky to go into these roles,” said one source who had been approached about a job at the department earlier this year. “Potential staff may question whether it’s worth the risk, whether taking a job for this secretary could cause collateral damage to reputations and future opportunities in education.”

We went back and looked to see when the Obama administration named its picks for some of the agency’s top players. In just about every instance, it was months ahead of the Trump crew. View the comparison.
A version of this article appeared in the October 25, 2017 edition of Education Week as With Key Positions Still Open, Staffing at Ed. Dept. Lags


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Pandemic Tests Limits of Cardona's Collaborative Approach as Education Secretary
He's sought the image of a veteran educator among former peers, but COVID has forced him to take a tough stance toward some state leaders.
10 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter speak to Mia Arias, 10, during their visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in New York.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter speak to Mia Arias, 10, during a visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, last month.
Brittainy Newman/AP
Federal White House Launches Hispanic Education Initiative Led by Miguel Cardona
President Joe Biden said his administration intends to address the "systemic causes" of educational disparities faced by Hispanic students.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona writes down and draws positive affirmations on poster board with students during his visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in New York.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits students in New York City at P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school in the Bronx last month.
Brittainy Newman/AP
Federal Feds Add Florida to List of States Under Investigation Over Restrictions on Mask Mandates
The Education Department told the state Sept. 10 it will probe whether its mask rule is violating the rights of students with disabilities.
3 min read
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Federal How Biden Will Mandate Teacher Vaccines, Testing in Some States That Don't Require Them
President Joe Biden's COVID-19 plan will create new teacher vaccination and testing requirements in some states through worker safety rules.
4 min read
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site setup for teachers and school staff at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., on March 15, 2021.
Nurse Sara Muela administers a COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site for at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa.
Matt Rourke/AP