A 24-year-old former campaign staffer who briefly held a senior position in President Donald Trump’s faltering drug policy shop has been re-hired to another strange position in the president’s staff.
Taylor Weyeneth briefly helped run the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), a relatively small but traditionally high-profile agency within the broader machinery of government drug policy. He had none of the resume one might expect for someone in such a position, his only prior professional experience coming as a Trump campaign staffer in 2016 following his graduation from St. Johns. After reporters from the Washington Post spotlighted his thin and in some cases inaccurate resume and illustrated how expertise has drained out of ONDCP under Trump, the White House announced Weyeneth would leave the position.
But he wasn’t gone for long. Trump staffers soon found another job for him — this time as a staffer in Ben Carson’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The job will see him working on opioid policy for HUD, a spokesman told Politico.
The president seems determined to keep Weyeneth around. After the Post’s story broke in mid-January, staffers initially said that Weyeneth would remain at ONDCP but be downgraded from the Deputy Chief of Staff role he’d been given. It took another two weeks for the administration to decide he would instead leave the agency altogether by the end of January.
HUD staff “had no immediate explanation for Weyeneth’s hiring,” according to Politico. The agency confirmed his position to ThinkProgress but ignored questions about what sort of opioid-related work the new staffer will perform there.
The agency has not traditionally had a significant role in drug policy. Community Development Block Grant funds administered by the HUD office where Weyeneth has been hired can be used to build or improve transitional “halfway houses” sometimes used by drug offenders exiting prison and for drug rehab facilities run on a non-profit basis. But the CDBG program — which Trump’s own budgets call for eliminating — goes primarily to other types of facilities.
HUD’s other significant interaction with drug policy has a larger impact, but is almost entirely passive from the agency’s end. Public housing agencies that administer HUD-funded facilities are required “to implement certain alcohol abuse, drug use, and criminal activity restrictions” on their grounds. But from 1988 through 2016, HUD also allowed these local officials to bar anyone with a criminal history or drug abuse history from their housing system — a tool many housing authorities used to unceremoniously evict anyone with a drug conviction. Obama-era officials pushed to reevaluate such rules, culminating in new guidance that restricted landlords’ use of such policies in 2016.
It’s possible, then, that Weyeneth will have plenty to keep him busy. But HUD has not traditionally maintained a dedicated salary position specifically for drug work. And Trump has repeatedly said that all his executive agencies should be looking to cut staff and do more with less, sometimes vilifying experienced public servants with broad-brush statements.
It’s not clear how shuffling a guy with a dodgy, short resume from a senior ONDCP job over to a seemingly novel HUD desk is consistent with either Trump’s staffing proclamations or his messy, hollow theatrics on the opioid crisis he declared a public health emergency last fall.
After Weyeneth’s rapid and ill-justified rise at ONDCP came to light in the Post’s reporting, a group of 10 Senate Democrats sent Trump a letter demanding to know why he has not made qualified hires to numerous jobs relevant to addressing the overdose and addiction crisis. Little has happened since to give those senators new confidence. Though Trump did name an appointee to lead ONDCP in February, he renewed his call to gut the agency in his second annual budget proposal.
Reporters scrutinizing the administrations opioid policy work have found that Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway has effectively crafted a shadow cabinet to work on the issue outside traditional offices staffed by experts with deep experience. Instead, she’s reportedly kept counsel with greener and more politically-oriented staff close to Trump and his campaign organization.
CORRECTION: This piece originally misidentified the officials who oversaw changes to HUD’s tenant criminal history rules in 2016.