Recently, Donald Trump suggested that he’d like to see retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly take control of the White House security staff. Yes, he said, he’d like someone else to be in charge. In an interview with Time’s Mark Halperin, the president explained his reasoning:
“I certainly wouldn’t pick any of those individuals. I think John Kelly has done a fantastic job. He’s grown a lot in a short period of time. … I mean, people now don’t think, ‘Oh, John Kelly is a military man.’ Now he’s a civilian, and he’s not as tough as he was. But I tell you, people are much more open now.”
Admittedly, the rhetoric around national security suggests that with a general running the White House, security might be more lax. But that doesn’t mean tests would necessarily explain how the General Kelly would do in that role. Despite Trump’s remarks, determining who’s capable and reliable might not actually be that hard.
Even in a highly charged situation like the White House, which has seen significant turnover and was the subject of numerous security breaches, the checks and balances to ensure performance are already in place. Take the entry level intelligence test for analysts, for example, which is given to lawyers and military personnel around the world. (It’s almost impossible to tell whether a candidate for entry-level intelligence officer would be competent at working in the U.S. government because it’s not a local government-approved test.) In contrast, Kelly’s lack of military experience would likely not be an issue if he were to ascend to the White House.
As an incentive to improve the people around the president, there are several ways that the American government could force or compel Trump to ensure that people who report to him or who report on him are competent and capable. A military man could be sent out to carry out a debrief with a critical person such as the head of the National Security Council, for example. But the president can’t necessarily be easily deterred from screening people for White House positions. Trump’s requests could seem more like revenge for reports of his ineffectiveness as president — a political punch back in response to perceived or assumed misconduct or failings. To make his request more politically motivated, Trump could define his criteria more aggressively, such as individuals who hold critical positions.
It’s important to note that whether people work in Washington or do so at a local county or city government, any skills are relevant. That’s why if the goal is to hire the best people, the more qualified applicants should come to us if we’re offering a pay and conditions you can’t get anywhere else. That said, if you truly want to hire the best people, our job is not to simply check a box and offer a job based on past experience. We should look beyond an applicant’s resume and work to understand the characteristics and qualities an individual would bring to a role, such as the understanding and personal qualities needed to lead people, or the ability to empower others to accomplish tasks. We’re certainly willing to work with candidates who don’t meet some of the qualifications Trump laid out, but any person hired is the right person for the job.