Government & Politics

Changing of the guard in Washington means big changes in Kansas City, too

A new administration in Washington will mean new leaders at federal agencies and departments with regional offices in Kansas City. Agency chiefs appointed by President Barack Obama will be replaced by ones to be appointed by Donald Trump.
A new administration in Washington will mean new leaders at federal agencies and departments with regional offices in Kansas City. Agency chiefs appointed by President Barack Obama will be replaced by ones to be appointed by Donald Trump. The Associated Press

Jason Klumb hasn’t packed his bags yet, but he knows the end is near.

The 48-year-old attorney is the head of the regional office of the General Services Administration, often referred to as the federal government’s landlord. He finds space for more than 60,000 federal workers throughout Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska.

Klumb buys phones and computers for federal offices. He oversees the government’s fleet. He’s involved with taxpayer-supported public building projects.

That huge south Kansas City plant that makes non-nuclear parts for nuclear bombs? Jason Klumb helped put that deal together.

It all comes to an end over the next few weeks, though, because Klumb is a Democrat. Democrats, you may have heard, will soon be out of power.

“I was appointed by this president, and serve at the pleasure of this president, and will leave with this president,” Klumb told The Star.

The story is the same at a handful of federal agencies and departments with regional offices in Kansas City. Stephene Moore, Health and Human Services administrator and spouse of former Rep. Dennis Moore, is out. So is Mark Hague at the Environmental Protection Agency office in Lenexa.

Beth Freeman’s time at the Federal Emergency Management Agency is short. Patricia Brown-Dixon will leave the Small Business Administration regional office downtown.

Both U.S. attorneys in our area — Tammy Dickinson in Missouri, Tom Beall in Kansas — will soon turn in their keys.

All are political appointees. It’s now the GOP’s turn to fill the positions.

The President-elect shares an update on the Presidential Transition, an outline of some of his policy plans for the first 100 days, and his day one executive actions. Video shared via "the official 2017 Presidential Transition account on YouTube"

And it’s important work. While much of the country is fixated on Donald Trump’s choices for the Cabinet and White House, lower-level political appointees actually execute administration policy at the state and local level, from building new courthouses to enforcing environmental regulations to prosecuting criminal suspects.

“It’s incredibly important,” said John Hancock, outgoing chairman of the Missouri Republican Party. “On the economy, certainly on law enforcement — those local positions exercise the prerogatives of the federal government, and they have profound effects.”

Said Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas GOP: “These are important appointments that most people forget about.”

Finding qualified people to fill those jobs is difficult. There are more than 4,000 jobs appointed by the executive branch across the country, positions listed every four years in what’s called the “Plum Book” (the 2016 Plum Book comes out in a few weeks).

In Trump’s case, though, filling the jobs may be tougher than usual. Trump’s campaign organization in most states was thin to non-existent, leaving him with fewer loyalists seeking employment.

So the Trump team is expected to rely on elected leaders in the states — and political operatives they know — to find people for the regional jobs, which can be quite lucrative.

Senators in the president-elect’s political party will be particularly involved.

Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas “is already at work identifying hard-working, well-qualified individuals who want to serve our nation and deliver efficient government,” his office said in a statement.

One early potential pick: Kansas Agriculture Secretary Jackie McClaskey for the regional office of the EPA. Kansas Republicans say she’s familiar with complaints from farmers about excessive pollution regulations, and might be a good fit for the agency.

“Secretary McClaskey has not spoken with the administration transition team,” her spokesman told The Star. “She does believe it is critical that EPA administrative appointments have a strong understanding of the agricultural industry.”

Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Deb Fischer of Nebraska will also play roles. Nebraska’s other GOP senator, Ben Sasse, was sharply critical of Trump during the campaign and will likely have to work harder to put allies into executive branch jobs.

One Kansas City Democrat said the next U.S. attorney in Missouri’s western district probably won’t come from Kansas City — instead, he expects Sen. Roy Blunt to recommend someone from southwest Missouri, where Blunt has a home.

“My colleagues and I in the region are already working hard to identify and put forward great men and women who can serve the president and the nation, ” Blunt said in a statement provided by his office.

From Obamacare to the Dream Act, Donald Trump has suggested throughout his campaign — and in his “Contract with the American Voter” — what he intends to do as soon as he takes the oath of office. But what does he actually have the legal power to d

It may take months before the empty positions are filled. And the turnover is a ticklish subject with some current administrators: through their offices, U.S. Attorney Dickinson and the EPA’s Hague declined requests for interviews. Moore at Health and Human Services wasn’t available, and FEMA sent a general statement without making regional administrator Freeman available for questions.

The new U.S. attorneys in Kansas and Missouri will need Senate confirmation. The other regional appointees can take office immediately after they’re named.

Klumb said he isn’t worried about a long delay if the Trump administration needs time to fill his seat. He didn’t start until a year after President Barack Obama’s inaugural, in part because former Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri held up the appointment of the overall director of the GSA.

Bond wanted the GSA to move forward on a new federal office building in downtown Kansas City. The new national director was eventually confirmed, over Bond’s objections — and the new structure was never built.

More than 1,000 federal workers in Kansas City were eventually moved from the Bannister Federal Complex into existing office space downtown.

“Appointees bring the policy perspective of the administration,” Klumb said. But “the career civil servants are very capable. …They’re dedicated to their jobs and they continue the day-to-day operations of the organizations very effectively.”

But local officials may be more concerned. They work closely with the GSA on office space — there’s still chatter about a new federal office building downtown. Other administrators work closely with area politicians on important concerns.

“The federal government is our region’s largest employer,” said Joe Reardon, president and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. “We’ll be paying close attention to selection of the new regional administrators.”

So will Kansas City Mayor Sly James.

“I may not share many of the same political views as the Trump administration,” he said, “but if regional appointees have a vested interest in improving the lives of all people of this city, my door will always be open to them.”

Reardon knows more about the impact of regional decisions than many others. He was the mayor in Kansas City, Kan., when the EPA moved its headquarters from his city to Lenexa.

The GSA was involved in that controversy, which happened before Klumb took the job.

But he has not been immune from criticism. Contamination of the Bannister Complex was an issue during his time in office, and cleanup and redevelopment of the site remain high priorities for the GSA.

Klumb won’t be around to see it, at least in an official capacity.

“Everything’s moving forward,” he said. “What’s that term? Cautiously optimistic.”

Dave Helling: 816-234-4656, @dhellingkc