Keystone of the Deep State

“This was not a politically motivated investigation. There is no deep state,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) last December, as she accused Attorney General William Barr of “unsupported attacks” on the FBI. Contrary to the California Democrat, there is a deep state and it does more than conduct covert operations like the Midyear Exam and Crossfire Hurricane. The central agency of the deep state is not the FBI but the SES, the Senior Executive Service, hiding in plain sight. 

“The SES insignia or emblem represents a keystone—the center stone that holds all the stones of an arch in place,” the federal Office of Personnel Management explains. “This represents the critical role of the SES as a central coordinating point between Government’s political leadership which sets the political agenda and the line workers who implement it. Members of the SES translate that political agenda into reality.” The OPM helpfully elaborates.

SES leaders, serve in the key positions just below the top Presidential appointees” as “the major link between these appointees and the rest of the Federal workforce. They operate and oversee nearly every government activity in approximately 75 Federal agencies,” including the State Department, the Army, Navy, the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. Like the Gershwin brothers, people might wonder how long this has been going on. 

The SES dates back to the Carter Era and the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, a response to the “moral and management failures of Watergate and Great Society program implementation.” The response was to create another bureaucracy more powerful than the others, “a cadre of high-level managers in the government.” In 1981, Karlyn Barker of the Washington Post noticed the SES wasn’t working as intended. The SES members complained about their pay and Barker provided little if any assessment of their success on the job. 

From 2008 through 2011 SES bosses received bonuses of more than $340 million. The bonuses came on top of salaries ranging from $119,000 to $179,000, and were not subject to the budget cuts. By this time, the SES embodied the bureaucratic waste it allegedly had been created to fix. On the political side, SES influence continued to surge. 

An SES report for 2015 charts salaries, ethnicity concerns, age trends and such, with no assessment of efficiency at streamlining the bureaucracy. As the report certifies, the SES cadre had grown, with 217 members in the Army, 318 in the Navy, 179 in the Air Force, 473 in the Department of Defense, 594 at Homeland Security, and a whopping 786 at the Department of Justice. “All other” federal agencies accounted for 1,785 SES members, with a grand total of 7,791. 

“The corps isn’t operating the way it’s supposed to be,” contended Nora Kelly Lee in the Atlantic in 2016, describing the SES as “fairly obscure.” Officials from the president on down agreed, “they still haven’t perfected the art of running the federal government.” According to Lee, “Poor leadership can result in mission failure, a demoralized workforce, tarnished agency reputation, and public distrust of the agency or government as a whole.” 

That is from a report from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, which no longer appears online. The board itself was created by the same 1978 Carter-era civil service “reforms” and functions as “an independent quasi-judicial agency in the Executive Branch that serves as the guardian of Federal merit systems.” As Lee explains, the MPPB report “credits the best career senior executives with improving national security and saving taxpayers billions of dollars,” with neither claim outlined in detail. 

On December 12, 2015, President Obama issued executive order 13714 “Strengthening the Senior Executive Service.” The 2,301-word order set out to “facilitate career executive continuity between administrations.” By May 31, 2016, agencies with 20 or more SES positions shall develop a plan “to increase the number of SES members who are rotating to improve talent development, mission delivery and collaboration.” This will continue for a minimum of 120 days, including different departments, agencies and “non-federal partners.” This will continue “during FY 2017, and thereafter, in order to ensure the mobility of the corps while also maintaining stability of operations.” 

That sounds like a major escalation of the original mandate. Americans might wonder what the nearly 800 SES bosses at the Department of Justice were doing while that department and the FBI took the lead against candidate and President Trump. Who were the “non-federal partners” with which the “mobile” SES interactacted? The agency was tasked to ensure “continuity between administrations,” and by all indications the SES did nothing to hinder James Comey, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Rod Rosenstein, Andrew McCabe, Bruce Ohr or many of the others at the heart of the Russia collusion hoax. 

Despite considerable evidence, none of those high-profile players have been charged for their role in the attempted coup against duly elected President Donald Trump. Perhaps one of those holdover SES bosses in the Department of Justice ordered U.S. Attorney John Durham to back off. A ballpark figure for the number of SES bosses disciplined or fired is zero. 

Yes, Dianne, there is a deep state, and the SES is the command force. Those folks up there in Washington, as the late Frank Zappa put it, they just take care of number one. And number one ain’t you. You ain’t even number two. 

Happy holidays everybody. And remember, stay safe.

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About Lloyd Billingsley

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Hollywood Party and other books including Bill of Writes and Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation. His journalism has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Spectator (London) and many other publications. Billingsley serves as a policy fellow with the Independent Institute.

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