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Trump supporters who hadn’t realized it before, must now know what we are up against in the wake of the anonymous New York Times op-ed, said to be authored by an “senior administration official” explaining #TheResistance efforts at work within the Trump Administration. Apparently, the call really is coming from inside the house.
We’ve learned that there are active efforts inside the administration to thwart President Trump’s agenda and policies. This person thinks he (or she) knows better than the tens of millions of Americans who voted for Trump. But what should be sobering to Trump supporters—and to all serious conservatives and Republicans, for that matter—is the fact that Times op-ed represents just a small sliver of what’s going on inside even a Republican administration on virtually a daily basis. There is a vast, unelected body inside the federal government that silently influences the ways in which our country is run. This permanent, unelected elite views citizens and their elections as nothing more than white noise. Something to be tolerated, but never heeded.
A new president, of course, enters the Oval Office in order to implement the agenda that got him elected. His goal is to follow through on the promises he made to the electorate and make the country safer, wealthier, and generally better off than it was before he entered office. One of the largest and most important tasks is to appoint trusted men and women in the various departments and agencies throughout the government to enact his policies and execute the laws Congress passes. According to the Plum Book, there are more than 7,000 roles to fill, from cabinet secretaries to deputy secretaries down to lower-level Schedule C appointments. These are the political roles—appointees that every administration seeks to fill in order both to make sure the right people are in place to advance the president’s agenda and to reward those who worked for his election. Some appointees require Senate confirmation, similar to the process we see with cabinet-level positions.
To give it some perspective, those roughly 7,000 political appointees are coming in to manage and direct roughly 2 million federal employees spread out over the 430 various departments, agencies, or sub-agencies within the U.S. government (plus the 1.3 million members of the military). For comparison’s sake, Walmart, America’s largest company, has 2.3 million employees while Amazon has just over 500,000. Running the federal government is a massive management task, so it’s important to bring in qualified, motivated individuals to get the work done. Unfortunately, those appointees aren’t the only ones on the job. Career government employees, civil servants, have potentially been in the same role or department for decades and still serve in that role regardless of whether a Republican or Democrat is president.
It has to be understood that those careers are, for the most part, not the kind that would be attractive to limited government conservatives or friendly to most stated Republican goals. Those who fill them are oftentimes motivated by self-interest and believe in maintaining the status quo. To these bureaucrats, cutting the size and growth of government means lost jobs and lower wages—whether for themselves or for their friends. Needless to say, many of them are not simpatico with cutting government spending (particularly if it diminishes the power or prestige of their own department), devolving powers to local governments, or to implementing any policies that would in any way hurt their job security.
But don’t take my word for it. Consider the political giving of federal government employees in the 2016 elections: 95 percent went to Hillary Clinton. That’s called self-interest in action. Unfortunately, the political beliefs of the unelected bureaucrats carry over into their behavior in the workplace.
Having been involved in a previous Republican administration, and having had many friends who were also involved as well, let me describe what typically happens. First, the Democrats obstruct and delay the confirmations and appointments of the senior political appointees (to be fair, Republicans often do the same during Democratic administrations). When those roles are not filled, guess what happens? Career bureaucrats step in as “acting” officials, and right now there are over 300 appointees still stalled by the Democrats after over 21 months of the Trump Administration. Those career bureaucrats might not be working overtly to thwart the Trump agenda, but in delaying, stalling, and with a distinct lack of urgency, they gum up implementation every day. But in some instances, careers bureaucrats pride themselves for actively working against the Republican President’s agenda.
I remember very clearly a good friend of mine describing his time at the Department of Justice. He had a long conversation with a senior level career bureaucrat as he explained the new policies and all the new Republican administration planned to accomplish. The bureaucrat nodded as if he’d been listening to a child explain their plan to dig to China. The bureaucrat explained that their goals were all fine and good, but that he and his staff “would outlast” the current Republican administration, and their ideas about the proper size and scope of the federal government. He made it quite clear, the American people might elect their representatives, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the civil “servants” are on board with enacting their policies. They had an election. Isn’t that cute?
We’ve all heard the phrase some of those servants have used: “They’re here for a term, we’re here forever.” And they literally are, which is why the process of firing or dismissing civil servants needs to be reformed. In perhaps the most egregious and notorious incident, one EPA employee was caught spending two to six hours per day watching pornography at work. This employee was making $120,000, all the while watching hours of porn on his work computer, in the office. Firing these lifelong bureaucrats is near impossible. The good news is that Republicans are working on some of those reforms with the MERIT Act, and Trump signed three executive orders in May that made it easier to fire such federal employees.
But it’s also past time for a massive downsizing and decentralizing of the government. The largest employer in the country shouldn’t be the federal bureaucracy. We need to find and cut nonessential roles and devolve power back to the states. Of the federal agencies that need to remain, we ought seriously to consider redistributing them across the country. Send the Bureau of Land Management west to manage government lands, since that is where the majority of them are. Send the Department of Agriculture to the Midwest. Burn the CFPB to the ground and salt the earth on which it stood. Send power back to the representatives closest to the people and stop making Washington, D.C. and all that happens in that swamp, the center and focus of our nation’s political imagination.
If President Trump truly wants to revolutionize the way we do business in America, he needs to cut to the core of the problem, the massive, ever growing, bureaucratic overlords that live in the swamp.
Photo Credit: NBC News