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Trump loyalists reshuffled at key agencies

As the Trump administration continues to navigate a rocky first 100 days, it is reshuffling staff --including a fleet of campaign loyalists.  

About a dozen temporary political appointees on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “beachhead” team -- placed in the agency beginning on Inauguration Day -- were notified last week they would not receive permanent positions at the department.

Almost all were former campaign staffers, and some had worked for Mr. Trump since mid-2015.  

Other agencies, including Treasury and Transportation, have also started to notify former campaign workers that they will not be staying on board. Several who were cut had moved to Washington from out of state in order to serve the Trump administration.

At the Labor Department, permanent positions will not be offered to staffers on the beachhead team until Mr. Trump’s nominee for Labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, is confirmed. 

However, the staffers at USDA are expected to land full-time roles at other agencies.

Some of the staffers being dismissed expressed disappointment and confusion after learning that they would not be able to remain with their departments.

“The perception [among agency staff] is, we were Mr. Trump’s goons who were good at knocking on doors, but can’t do much else,” said one former campaign staffer who has previous government experience but was not offered a full time role at his agency.

Beachhead teams deploy to federal agencies on Inauguration Day to ensure a smooth transition between administrations. Once an agency head or cabinet secretary is confirmed by the Senate and begins to build his or her team, the temporary appointees are often absorbed into the agency as full-time political appointees.

“The beachhead roles are about understanding the agency, how decisions are made and what the mission is,” said David Eagles of the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition, a nonprofit that assists federal agencies on presidential transitions. “You will see some folks in temporary positions end up not in that final position. In some cases you don’t even need those positions. The Trump administration has been very thoughtful about the political appointee roles. They’re asking about purpose and qualifications and it’s not always a perfect fit.”

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But at the USDA, the department’s liaison to the White House told staffers last week that the department could not hire them on a permanent basis because of budget cuts.

A USDA spokesman said the roles were simply “temporary political appointments to assist with the transition, expiring after 120 days.” Still, the spokesman said 75 percent of beachhead appointees would be taking permanent jobs within the department, while others are finding roles in other parts of the government.

The White House also insisted that no one was being “fired” from federal agencies. A White House spokesperson added that for those who have not been offered permanent positions, the Presidential Personnel Office is “leading the process to help qualified individuals who have served on the beachhead teams to find suitable roles within the administration.”

After the election, Mr. Trump, like most presidents, wanted to reward those loyal campaign workers -- even if that meant some of those  staffers would land in agencies where they had no relevant professional experience.

Eagles told CBS that what’s happening here does not materially differ from pass administrations, though the magnitude may seem greater because Mr. Trump’s beachhead teams “were the largest such effort.” 

“It’s a normal process,” Eagles explained. “Expectations should be set that they are temporary positions.” The job of the beachhead employees is “to mind shop until the Senate confirmed personnel get in place” Eagles said.

A former transition staffer said that there were explicit directives to individuals that beachhead positions were temporary and if the Cabinet secretary and management enjoyed working with you, those jobs could become permanent.

“Because the jobs are temporary in nature, you can slot people in places and figure out if it’s actually a good place,” an administration source told CBS News when asked about the staff changes.

But one Capitol Hill Republican suggested that many of the campaign veterans placed in the jobs were not qualified or were not appropriately vetted. The source pointed to the case of Sid Bowlidge, a former Trump campaign staffer in New Hampshire who was slated to work at the Energy Department.

He was fired only after Greentech Media first reported that Bowlidge had posted disparaging remarks about Muslims on social media.

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