Reforming The Bureaucracy: How Trump Is Taming the Behemoth

Bureaucracy

This post was originally published on Real Clear Politics.

Governing: While our distracted national media fawn over a murderous dictator’s evil sister and pretend that the Rob Porter White House scandal means something, President Trump continues to remake our government.

Quietly, Trump has begun to whittle away at the power and permanence of our nation’s bureaucratic ruling class by slashing regulations and limiting powers that Congress foolishly has allowed it to take over.

It’s not merely the size of the bureaucracy that matters. It’s the increasing power that gives the anonymous men and women who toil in the U.S.’ unofficial fourth branch of government immense say over nearly every aspect of American private and commercial life — with virtually no accountability.

This has long been a big issue for businesses. They often find themselves operating under federal bureaucratic “guidance documents” that, while they aren’t law, are virtually indistinguishable from law as far as businesses are concerned.
The documents provide businesses with directions as to how to comply with the law. Sounds innocent, but in fact Congress often writes the laws broadly and leaves it up to the bureaucracy to implement them. The “guidance” they offer therefore has the power of law.

Unfortunately, the “guidance” offered by federal bureaucrats tends overwhelmingly to be left wing in its political orientation, given the political make-up of our bureaucracy.

As the New York Times wrote,  “Guidance documents offer the government’s interpretation of laws, and often when individuals or companies face accusations of legal violations, what they have really violated are the guidance documents.”

That is not the rule of law. It’s the rule of bureaucrats.

The White House took a huge step toward restoring Americans’ rights when Rachel Brand, the Justice Department’s No. 3 official, issued new rules last week saying the Justice Department would no longer “use its enforcement authority to effectively convert agency guidance documents into binding rules.”

In addition,  Justice Department lawyers won’t use “noncompliance with guidance documents as a basis for proving violations of applicable law.”

This is in itself a welcome change from the previous rule, which gave the federal government virtually carte blanche in bringing suit against companies, even if they didn’t actually violate the law.

So the bureaucrats’ reign of legal tyranny ends.

Meanwhile, Trump has moved to clip the bureaucracy’s wings in one other significant way: giving agency heads the right to, as Trump put it, “hire the best and fire the worst.”

To those operating in the private sector, it seems almost insane that those who are responsible for some of the most powerful agencies in our government wouldn’t be able to hire and fire as they wished. In the private sector, that’s how productivity improves. In the government, accountability is all but nonexistent.

But those days, too, are coming to an end.

As Trump foreshadowed in his State of the Union speech, “Tonight, I call on Congress to empower every Cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”

This follows the recent VA Accountability Act, which gave the VA’s chief greater power over firing and disciplining workers.

According to the White House, under that new act, 1,470 employees have been dismissed, 443 have been suspended and 83 others have been demoted for poor performance or improper conduct.

These changes have been a long time coming. Unfortunately, the next president, whether that’s in 2020 or 2024, can undo these changes with the stroke of a pen and a little help from a friendly Congress.

Trump is right. To make these changes permanent, it would be best for Congress to pass sweeping bureaucracy reform that would make these changes not just a political preference, but the law of the land.

Unfortunately, Congress’ focus right now isn’t on any reform, but on getting elected. With the 2018 midterm elections coming up, it might be hard to pass such a reform. No doubt it would be almost impossible to get Democratic support.

Republicans should raise the issue anyway. The bureaucracy is an unelected Leviathan that is resented by many Americans for its unaccountable power. It’s time to tame this beast once and for all.

This post was originally published on Real Clear Politics.

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