This week, President Donald Trump announced an increase in troops in Afghanistan without giving the precise number that will be sent there or what they will be doing. “America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out,” Trump said in Fort Myer, Virginia.
We also know that Trump views the press as the enemy. So that could explain why this extreme lack of transparency extends to the relatively mundane question of whether the administration has fulfilled deadlines for actions mandated in executive orders and memoranda. Trump himself set these deadlines, but as of now, The Intercept can confirm that only 23 of 52 have been met since Inauguration Day.
For example, on Aug. 9, six different reports and assessments were due as part of the president’s executive order on cybersecurity, involving the participation of 13 different federal agencies. Only three responded to queries from The Intercept, and all of them referred us to other sources. The General Services Administration suggested directing inquiries to the Office of Management and Budget, while the departments of Defense and State referred questions to the White House. The White House and OMB have yet to respond.
Similarly, after querying the Department of Homeland Security about its inability to confirm the receipt of six different reports from the president or disclose their contents, spokesperson David Lapan would only say, “All of these reports go to the White House. You’ll need to check with them on current status and whether any of them will be made public. DHS does not plan to release any of these reports.” Asked whether that is a confirmation that the reports exist, Lapan did not respond.
Even reports completed in previous months have stalled. The State Department, per a memorandum related to the travel ban, is supposed to publish a list of immigrant and nonimmigrant visa issuances monthly, sorted by country of issuance. Although the State Department accomplished this task in March, April, May, and June, there is no report available for July, over three weeks after the due date. The State Department has failed to explain to The Intercept why they haven’t published the report.
In all, no agency has responded to The Intercept’s requests to confirm receipt of a report mandated by executive order or memoranda since July 16.
Requests from other media outlets indicate at least some of these reports have been delayed. Axios reported on Aug. 4 that the Commerce Department’s plan for pipeline construction with American materials was “due to the president last week” but had not been delivered (it was actually due July 23). The Commerce Department, which has been criticized by U.S. oil companies for potentially increasing the cost of pipelines, has not issued the report publicly or said when it will do so.
The White House has admitted delay in a promised restriction on steel imports. Trump promised a decision on tariffs after receiving a Commerce Department analysis in June, but the administration has held off, amid criticism from manufacturers who welcome cheap steel imports. The Commerce Department has also had trouble gathering information for the steel market review, according to the Washington Post.
Since that time, Trump signed a memorandum, and the U.S. Trade Representative initiated a study into Chinese intellectual property theft of U.S. companies. But this finding would only benefit the corporate treasuries of pharmaceutical, technology, and entertainment companies, most of whom either manufacture abroad or have contracts in place that would limit the benefits of IP enforcement from flowing to workers. So executives at Merck or Microsoft have a lot to like about Trump’s “America first” trade policies thus far; steelworkers, not so much.
The Los Angeles Times noted that Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order on border security, which called for stepped-up deportations, immediate construction of a border wall, and hiring 5,000 new Border Patrol agents, has not come close to that outcome. In fact, Border Patrol employment has dropped by 220. Predictably, the departments of Justice and Homeland Security have not responded to queries about whether they completed progress reports on implementing this executive order, due July 24.
ProPublica has been unable to get a complete list of Trump’s deregulation teams, ushered in by his executive order enforcing the regulatory reform agenda. Despite urging from Democratic members of Congress, the White House has not released all the names of these teams or their potential conflicts of interest. We know that many of them previously served as executives or lobbyists for industries their agencies now oversee.
The Energy Department was expected to release a study of the U.S. energy grid, as part of Trump’s executive order on promoting energy independence. Though Energy Secretary Rick Perry initially wanted to use the study to prove that regulatory burdens that led to retirements of coal and nuclear plants threatened reliable power generation, a draft report viewed by Bloomberg found that “grid operators are using technologies, standards and practices to assure that they can continue operating the grid reliably.” After announcing it would be issued in July, Perry never presented the report, and last week the Sierra Club filed suit to force its release.
The only actions confirmed as fulfilled on time in the past month came from the Department of the Treasury. A June memorandum on Cuba policy asked the Treasury to “initiate a process to adjust current regulations” on transactions with and tourism to Cuba. Treasury Department spokesperson Seth Unger told The Intercept that “the process of developing new regulations is underway,” with implementation and guidance expected “in the coming months.”
So that indescribably low bar was cleared.
Despite this total secrecy on the progress of executive orders, Trump continues to manufacture more public deadlines. He signed an executive order last week rolling back requirements to account for climate change and increased threats of flooding in federal infrastructure projects, which amounts to effectively throwing money into an ocean flowing over from sea-level rise. There are three deadlines attached to that order, including one asking the Council on Environmental Quality to devise a list of actions to modernize environmental review by Sept. 14.
Agencies, however, continue to take a loose attitude toward completing the reviews. Conservationists have been unnerved by an imminent review determining the fate of over two dozen national monuments, only a few of which have been publicly spared from potential scale-backs or elimination. (This is the land we’re talking about, not statues of Confederate leaders; the former is in the crosshairs, the latter are just fine with Trump.) But one week before the deadline, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lounged on the Greek isles in what looked like a fun vacation with his wife.
The review of the monuments is due Thursday.
First came the Never Trumpers, and I did not speak out, because they stood against Donald Trump. Then came the Lincoln Project, and I did not speak out, because their videos went viral. Then came the Chamber of Commerce, and by then it was too late.