With the departure of its Senate-confirmed leader last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a new edict regarding which U.S. officials are worthy of a framed portrait on the agency’s walls.
Just one: President Donald Trump.
The shrinking photo gallery is the result of an agency mandate to feature only Senate-confirmed leaders and elected officials on its walls. Because Trump has said he prefers to keep many top officials in “acting” positions to make it easier to fire them, and because the president has repeatedly refused to nominate the agency’s leaders for confirmation, Trump’s photo will stand alone.
“As of Monday, November 18, 2019, the only Official Leadership photograph that can be displayed in ‘CBP Official Leadership Displays’ is that of President Donald J. Trump,” CBP said in an email to staff on Monday. “All official photographs of DHS and/or CBP Leadership should be removed from photo frames and replaced with the DHS Seal Placeholder. . . . When official photographs of DHS and CBP Leadership become available they will be provided and can be displayed accordingly.”
CBP issued the edict because Trump last week replaced acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan with acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf. Since McAleenan was CBP’s most recently confirmed commissioner, he appeared on the agency’s walls in that capacity, according to agency spokeswoman Stephanie Malin.
The agency only displays portraits of officials in “confirmed leadership positions.”
“Now, without confirmed leadership in either the DHS secretary or CBP commissioner positions, the president is the only person in a confirmed position to display a picture of,” Malin said.
Top Republicans and Democrats have urged Trump to send nominees to the Senate for confirmation, especially for the Department of Homeland Security, the nation’s third-largest federal agency. Members of Congress fear any perceived instability at the top of the agency, which was created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to present a cohesive front against domestic and foreign threats. Among its key duties is to enforce the nation’s immigration laws and police its land, sea and air borders.
While the president is comfortable with a more flexible leadership approach – similar vacancies have persisted across the federal government – Republicans and Democrats have warned him that having unconfirmed leaders hurts DHS’ credibility and its ability to realize long-term goals.
The White House struggled to find a replacement for McAleenan because so many top positions at DHS were vacant or filled with temporary leaders, lacking a clear line of succession.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., the Homeland Security committee chairman, and Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the committee’s ranking Democrat, urged Trump earlier this month to nominate officials for top jobs requiring Senate confirmation at DHS, saying independent government watchdogs and national security experts “have recognized the importance of Senate-confirmed leaders and warned of the dangers of pervasive vacancies to government accountability and national security.”