Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Sanders, and now Anthony Scaramucci. These are a few of the names that dominate headlines around the Trump administration. And that’s before we get to the president, himself. With the White House bouncing from Twitter-induced crisis to rumored staff shake-up to campaign-style rally, the cacophony of noise out of the West Wing often threatens to overwhelm any other news about the workings of government.
The government employs more than two million federal workers, the vast majority of whom never walk through the gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The agencies they work for impact the quality of the air we breathe, the types of schools our children attend, how we manage public lands, and much more. When Donald Trump and his coterie of advisors and spokespeople constantly garner air time and page space, it’s tempting to lament: Why isn’t the media covering the agencies? When we hear from readers, that’s a common refrain. But the reporting is out there; it’s often just tougher to find.
That’s why it was heartening to see Michael Lewis take a big swing at a story on an agency few people—including, until recently, its director—understand. The author of Moneyball and The Big Short dropped nearly 13,000 words on a Vanity Fair feature about the Department of Energy. Titled, “Why the Scariest Nuclear Threat May Be Coming From Inside the White House,” it is, to be clear, not reassuring. Lewis speaks with dozens of current and former DOE staffers about the new administration’s approach to its work, but the piece also reads as a primer on what the agency really controls.
What the alphabet soup of the federal bureaucracies actually do can be maddeningly complex, and policy decisions made at the highest levels often take awhile to trickle down to daily life. The job of explaining those policy decisions and how they will affect American lives falls to reporters whose work rarely leads news broadcasts or dominates political conversation. The work, however, is being done. Below, some help on finding it.
- Empty desks at the State Department: CBS News’s Kylie Atwood reports that, other than Secretary Rex Tillerson, “only one of the 32 top State Department leadership positions has been filled with a Senate-confirmed appointee.”
- New ethics chief: The New York Times’s Eric Lipton writes that David J. Apol, the new head of the Office of Government Ethics, has sought to loosen ethics requirements on federal employees. Apol replaces Walter Shaub Jr., who had been a vocal critic of President Trump.
- A slow start: Education Week’s Alyson Klein looks at Betsy DeVos’s first six months as head of the Department of Education. So far, Klein writes, “a politically hamstrung DeVos is having a tough time getting her agenda off the ground.”
- Opening up public lands: As head of the Interior Department, Ryan Zinke has begun rolling back conservation efforts and opening public land to business interests, report Coral Davenport and Nicholas Fandos.
Other notable stories
- According to Politico’s Rachael Bade and Josh Dawsey, Trump’s Wednesday-morning tweets announcing a ban on transgender soldiers “was, in part, a last-ditch attempt to save a House proposal full of his campaign promises that was on the verge of defeat.”
- For CJR, Lyz Lenz has a great profile on CNN’s Chris Cillizza, the pageview machine that journalists love to hate.
- CNN’s Oliver Darcy writes that the Drudge Report has been showing signs of turning on the president, and that Trump should be worried.
- Michael Shaw has a striking piece for CJR on how photography of the current opioid crisis differs from previous iterations of the war on drugs.
- In The Washington Post, Erika Franklin Fowler and Sarah E. Gollust argue that local TV news coverage of the Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare “may have made some GOP senators think twice about angering constituents.”
- Page Six reports that Dancing with the Stars wants Sean Spicer.