The Trump White House is not shy about stacking independent government agencies with ideological loyalists. In fact, the Trump administration had an entire plan to install cronies throughout the ranks of federal civil servants by eliminating the Office of Personnel Management.
After that plan was thwarted when the Department of Justice warned the move would be illegal (yeah, we’re shocked too), President Trump is reportedly now looking to tap an inexperienced ideologue known for promoting false far-right conspiracy theories.
Who is Trump’s top choice to run the federal government’s HR department? We take a look Behind the Scenes — meet John Gibbs:
A promoter of far-right conspiracy theories who said Trump should “focus on the white vote” is being considered to direct an independent agency
The Office of Personnel Management is, in effect, the human resources department for the federal government. Historically, presidents of both parties have nominated individuals who tend to be apolitical in order to ensure that the thousands of career officials who work for the government — and who hail from across the political spectrum — can be confident they’ll be treated fairly.
Breaking with that tradition, Trump is taking his mission to appoint staunchly political cronies to the HR department by appointing John Gibbs, who has spent much of his career publicly advancing far-right, fringe conspiracy theories.
Installing a political loyalist to lead OPM would run contrary to the agency’s mission to provide independent regulatory oversight of the government workforce. Its critical functions will be compromised if led by an official wholly unprepared by experience and worldview for the task.
John Gibbs joined the Trump administration in 2017 after stints as a software engineer, Christian missionary in Japan, and a conservative commentator. He is currently an acting senior official in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, coordinating programs that Trump intends to defund.
An odd choice to entrust HUD’s efforts to lift up disadvantaged communities to an appointee who believes the purpose of social welfare government programs is to “secure and maintain a loyal voting bloc [for the Democratic party] by making them permanent aid recipients” and “hurt the poor for the sake of political gain.”
“In some cases we’re populating the government with people who can’t function in their roles because they don’t believe in the mission of the agency,” described Cliff Taffet, a 26-year veteran of HUD and former general deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Community Planning and Development that Gibbs currently leads.
While Gibbs lacks relevant qualifications, experience, or belief in HUD’s mission, his resume does note “working late nights and most weekends” as a key accomplishment and boasts that he had “written numerous columns advocating for Donald Trump for President… from an America First perspective.” He has been outspoken on Fox & Friends and Tomi Lahren’s show on TheBlaze, and his radio appearances are “too long to list.”
Maybe Gibbs’ appointment isn’t too surprising under Ben Carson’s management, which The Washington Post dubbed: “Political loyalty required, no experience necessary.” But now he’s being considered for a position outside of Carson’s cozy agency.
Trump was told his botched attempt to dismantle the Office of Personnel Management was illegal, so he decided to install a political loyalist at its helm
John Gibbs’ experience and beliefs alone should have been disqualifying for his senior-level positions in HUD, but in this administration, he is now being considered for a promotion to running an agency that oversees the livelihoods of 2.1 million federal employees, despite believing that government programs have “robbed” citizens “of the chance to develop their talents and character.”
As Linda Springer, a former director of OPM in a Republican administration testified, the Trump White House is trying to return federal personnel policy to a prior era where “the spoils and patronage system had taken hold,” thereby undoing the hard work of creating a merit-based and professional civil service. The nomination of a fervent supporter to lead OPM is just the latest salvo in this effort.
Rather than simply being an extension of the whims of an unstable White House, the Office of Personnel Management is intended to act independently as the federal government’s HR department — managing oversight, support, and benefits for the federal workforce. Its critical functions are to protect civil servants by
- Ensuring compliance with anti-corruption laws (like the Hatch Act, which prohibits executive branch employees from engaging in partisan political activity),
- Controlling the number of political appointees in an agency, and
- Auditing agencies to ensure federal employees are evaluated by merit, not political influence
This crucial agency found itself under early attack by the Trump administration. President Trump issued an Executive Order in March 2017 seeking “recommendations to eliminate unnecessary agencies,” and his administration soon proposed a plan for “Reorganizing the U.S. Office of Personnel Management” to “move OPM’s policy function into the Executive Office of the President” and dissolve the rest of the agency into the Department of Defense and General Services Administration.
Moving OPM’s policymaking into the White House could have offered Trump increased influence over the fate of civil servants. But the proposal to dismantle OPM not only met bipartisan disapproval but also a harsh warning from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel that the plan was illegal. So, Trump’s White House turned to seeding the agency with cronies instead.
Trump loyalists with political agendas, like Gibbs, are no substitute for qualified public servants leading critical federal agencies
“This is an issue that rises above partisanship,” former OPM director Springer testified, “OPM has always had deep federal personnel policy knowledge and subject matter expertise.” Yet the Trump administration continues to value ideology over experience, especially to further its practice of dismantling institutional standards for political gain.
We know a lot about John Gibbs’ background (maybe too much, like his tips on how to convert Japanese people to Christianity) but we don’t know what’s in store for OPM if the independent agency is led by a political loyalist like Gibbs. Here’s what we want to know:
- What are Gibbs’ marching orders from Trump at OPM?
- Does Gibbs intend to give the White House veto over OPM policy, turning it in practice into a subordinate rather than independent agency?
- Has Gibbs been hatching plans with John McEntee, Trump’s former body man and hand-picked head of the White House Presidential Personnel Office?