While you were watching the President of the United States shirk his nation’s responsibility to lead on the fundamental moral issue of our time, there was an interesting development: Hurricane season kicked off. Yes, that annual period when the American Southeast is most likely to get pelted with the fiercest storms the Atlantic has to offer. And because Everything Is Fine, we’re starting off the season without agency heads for FEMA or NOAA.
There’s no reason for worry, though. The latter—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—oversees the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service, which provide hurricane forecasts and warnings ahead of a storm. There can’t be hurricanes if we can’t see them coming. And even if one does slip through, the Federal Emergency Management Agency won’t have anyone demanding that we “respond” or “help with relief efforts.” It’ll be like it never happened.
Yes, there are still plenty of people working at these agencies. Yes, we will still know when a hurricane is coming. But it pays to have someone in charge with whom the buck ultimately stops. They don’t always accept that, or do anything resembling a satisfactory job—see George W. Bush’s pal, Michael “Brownie” Brown, whom the 43rd president said was doing a “heckuva job” after Hurricane Katrina—but at least you can assign responsibility to an actual human being. With the proficiency and expertise that the Trump administration has shown in other areas, however, we can safely assume that any catastrophic weather event will be handled with calm, empathetic competence.
Speaking of competence, FEMA and NOAA aren’t the only agencies crying out for leadership. Of the 559 administration positions that require Senate confirmation of the president’s appointees, Trump has nominated just 117. Fewer still have been confirmed and are serving in office. Newly re-strung Presidential Puppetmaster Steve Bannon believes in the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” and so far that looks like a success. A good way to destroy an organization is to make sure nobody works in it. Sometimes, that even leads to 700 unfilled positions at the Centers for Disease Control.
That last one is hard to explain, but the NOAA vacancy is less so. After all, the agency studies the impact of climate change on extreme weather events, something that simply will not do for this administration. NOAA so far believes it’s “premature” to conclude climate change has led to fiercer storms in the Atlantic—even if warmer water creates stronger storm systems—but that the effects may not yet be detectable. The agency is positive, though, that “anthropogenic warming by the end of the 21st century will likely cause tropical cyclones globally to be more intense on average,” increasing “the destructive potential per storm.”
This articles was published on esquire.com