Government Reform: Two Approaches

Had Mitt Romney been elected in 2011, we would have seen a Bain-style of strategic federal government reform: departmental missions; evaluation of processes; assessment of skills and tools; alignment of internal and external interactions; pursuit of efficiency and effectiveness; institution of performance measures. Alas, we will never know if a professional approach would have been able to overcome the entrenched bureaucracy defending both its ideological ground and its self-interest. What we can observe is the Trump approach.

The middle ranks of the executive branch are filled with analysts and managers who believe in what they are doing. For most it is a job – the pay is good; the hours are reasonable; one can be proud telling family and friends what you do for a living. There is an overlay of political appointees who come from the political class – party and campaign organizations, universities, and think tanks. The political appointees come, make policy, and go when the administration changes; the mass of the bureaucracy advise and implement. It was that way when I worked at the Pentagon in the Nixon administration; it is true today. Aside from complaints about “the Deep State”, it is not apparent that President Trump and his transition team understood the need to replace the thousands of political appointees if they want to change direction. Perhaps that was because Chris Cristie got fired mid-course as leader of the transition team and his lists of potential appointees went with him; perhaps it was because Team Trump was so far outside of the Establishment that they couldn’t trust people from within the system that they didn’t personally know; perhaps Trump’s business experience did not prepare him for leading such a large organization.  Whatever the reason, the road is unnecessarily bumpy.

Exhibit number one is the State Department – perhaps the most difficult transformation because of the large number of well-connected policy makers and ambassadors and the access of senior staff to the media. In the case of the Trump administration, State faces a couple of extra hurdles – the appointment of former generals to the Secretary of Defense, National Security Adviser, and White House Chief of Staff positions normally filled by civilians, and the selection of a Secretary of State who had no government experience or constituency in Congress. To date, the restructuring has included a large element of encouraging Obama appointees and others opposed to the populist “America First” agenda to leave without replacement. The FY2018 budget for State and foreign aid is $37.6 billion, a 31% reduction from FY2017. Full time American department employment of 25,000 will be reduced by 8%. Of the six under secretary positions, only one has been filled.  Of the 24 assistant secretary positions, only three are filled, with four additional names having been sent to the Senate for confirmation. Less than a third of the 190 ambassador-level positions have been filled with noted vacancies in such places as Mexico, Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Ukraine, Syria, South Korea, the Philippines, and the European Union. Small wonder that the foreign policy establishment is calling for Rex Tillerson’s head.

Other agencies are led by people who share a radically different view of the role of the department than do most of the employees who joined during the Obama years: the Environmental Protection Agency (Scott Pruitt); the Department of Education (Betsy Voss) ; the Department of Energy (Rick Perry); and now the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Mick Mulvaney, acting). “Reform” will take the form of different policy direction, key personnel changes, and budget cuts. In the case of the CFPB there may be a Congressional effort to undo the creation of Barack Obama and Pocahontas Warren, folding the function back into other financial industry overseers. In each case the department head position description leads with intestinal fortitude and ideological alignment with the president.

Some of the restructuring fight is down in the weeds. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, with eleven active judges, has the responsibility of directly reviewing the decisions and rule-making of many federal agencies. Jeff Sessions gets it. In the week when a Trump-appointed DC Circuit judge affirmed that the President, rather than the outgoing Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director, gets to appoint the new acting director,  the Senate approved Greg Katsas for the “second most important court in the nation” by a 50-48 margin.   

The last resort of the resisting bureaucrats is political. While national Democrats have tried to claim that the November 7 election of Ralph Northam as governor of Virginia over Republican Ed Gillespie reflected a national anti-Trump tide, the reality is that the DC suburbs – among the wealthiest zip codes in the country – voted for their own self interest. State-wide Gillespie did as well as the Republican in the prior governor election, but the suburbs (where the Washington Post is the home town newspaper and the locals are denizens of the “swamp”) turned out in droves. What played so well in Arlington didn’t particularly resonate in Richmond, nor will it in Indianapolis.

Romney might have gotten this done without breaking as much furniture, but Trump will get it done.



www.RightinSanFrancisco.com  – 12/1/17


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