December 8, 2016

December 8, 2016 | Commentary on Rule of Law, Elections, Regulation

Taming the Bureaucratic Beast: The Herculean Task Ahead of President-Elect Donald Trump

President-elect Donald Trump certainly has his work cut out for him: Undoing all of the damage done by President Barack Obama over the past eight years.

Mr. Obama instigated an unprecedented — and unconstitutional — expansion of power by the federal government that poses a danger to our liberty, our freedom, and our economic well-being. Last Tuesday’s election gave us a chance to pull our constitutional republic back from the brink and preserve the greatest nation the world has ever seen.

Again: Too many political appointees were simply afraid of criticism if they implemented conservative policies and principles.

But Donald Trump will be up against a massive federal bureaucracy that will resist all of the steps necessary to accomplish that goal. Consider the Department of Justice, which has been politicized to an extent never seen before. Cleaning it up will be as difficult as cleaning out the Augean stables. Hercules had to divert two rivers to wash out the filth, and it will take a similarly massive effort at Justice to wash out the politics and progressive liberal activism that infests the agency from top to bottom.

The members of the Trump transition team need to understand that the career ranks at federal executive departments (perhaps with the exception of the Defense Department and isolated other pockets like the Border Patrol), are not filled with nonpartisan civil servants who impartially carry out the policies of the president. From the State Department to the Department of Justice, partisan liberals predominate the ranks of career employees.

For the last eight years, the Obama administration’s political appointees, with the help of their friends and allies in the career ranks, have ignored, bent, and broken the rules governing merit selection to aggressively hire only liberal career staff. The Justice Department’s civil rights and environmental divisions have made it a high art form. The bureaucracies of these agencies, virtually immune to being fired, will do everything they can to stop President Trump’s policies and directives.

In fact, the transition team should expect that the Obama administration will follow the lead of the Clinton administration, which went on a hiring spree during its last two months to jam as many leftists (including political appointees) into open career spots as they possibly could. When the new administration takes over at noon on Jan. 20, 2017, it should immediately review (with an eye toward potential termination) all federal employees who are still in their probationary period. The federal government is already far larger than it should be, so there should also be an immediate hiring freeze put in place across the entire executive branch to shrink the size of the government.

During the George W. Bush administration, I was one of the few conservative career lawyers inside the Civil Rights Division. While there were some very good, principled conservative political appointees inside Justice, some were actually afraid to implement conservative policies lest they incur the wrath of the liberal bureaucratic establishment inside Justice.

Others were very naïve; they didn’t understand that the critical mass of liberal career employees would do everything they could — directly and indirectly — to thwart the president’s priorities. In their recalcitrance, they went so far as to misrepresent the law and conceal critical facts to block implementation of anything they disagreed with.

Their other tactic was to violate, without hesitation, confidentiality regulations and ethics rules. They would leak with abandon — to their liberal allies in the press, their friends at progressive advocacy organizations, and their confidantes on the staffs of liberal members of Congress — the details of any program or policy with which they disagreed. Again: Too many political appointees were simply afraid of criticism if they implemented conservative policies and principles.

This was a particular problem with the political appointees who inhabited the middle levels of management. Many of them were early in their careers and hoped to advance to higher posts within this or the next Republican administration. Some of them looked at past nominees who had been filibustered and were scared that pursuing policies upsetting to the Left would result in their future advancement being torpedoed. So they changed their behavior and avoided implementing conservative principles on important public policy issues.

The Trump administration needs to pick political appointees at all levels who follow their leader’s example — people who don’t give a damn what the editorial pages of The Washington Post or The New York Times say about them. When organizations like Media Matters and the Center for American Progress or MSNBC don’t like them, they should wear it as a badge of honor. Anyone scared of that should not be in the administration. In fact, if the left-stream media approves of what you are doing as an administration official, you are probably doing the wrong thing.

Finding individuals who will stand their ground means looking for people who have been inside the cauldron and not retreated under the Left’s relentless viciousness and vindictiveness. All too often, conservative officials have withered when faced with the unfair and dishonest criticism of the institutional Left.

One final fact that the Trump administration should keep in mind: Year after year, all of these predominantly liberal federal agencies have gotten bigger, gotten more money, and acquired more power — for decades. The most expedient solution to reducing the power and liberal influence of the federal government requires a significant downsizing of the entire executive branch.

Proposals for even modest cuts lead to howling protests from the liberal press, the Washington political establishment, and the public employee unions. But downsizing would force the agencies to rein in their activities and concentrate on their core missions, reducing their ever-growing interference in the everyday lives of Americans and our economy because it would decrease the resources that the feds could spend on such interference.

The executive branch of the federal government is an ever-growing behemoth that is slowly invading every facet of American life. The only way this will ever change is if conservatives finally realize that when they control Congress and the White House, that is only the beginning of the fight. They can effect change and implement conservative public policy only if they tame — and dramatically reduce — the vast federal civil service bureaucracy in the executive branch.

Only then will the nation’s accelerating path toward socialization and the loss of our liberties be halted and drawn back.

About the Author

Hans A. von Spakovsky Manager, Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Legal Fellow
Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies

Related Issues: Rule of Law, Elections, Regulation

This piece first appeared in the Conservative Review.