Sacking Unaccountable Bureaucrats Should Be The Next GOP President’s No. 1 Priority
Democrats’ control of the administrative state is a DEFCON 1-level crisis for our system of government and, by extension, our way of life.
By Jonathan Bronitsky – January 25, 2024
7 MIN READ
“The administrative state,” Heritage Foundation President Dr. Kevin Roberts declared in front of the annual gathering of the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, “is the greatest threat to democracy in the United States, and we need to end it.” He’s absolutely right.
As conservatives, if we’re serious about re-constitutionalizing our system of government, the next administration must make slashing both the scope and scale of the executive branch — the citadel of the administrative state — its highest priority. If we fail in that objective, any and all wins we secure the next time we win at the ballot box will be erased by the next Democrat administration. It will happen immediately and by executive order and other means, as it did virtually on the first day of the Biden administration.
Out of concern for second- and third-order consequences, I’m typically wary to recommend “silver bullets” when it comes to policies for addressing national issues. But I believe that chopping down the administrative state is as close to a swift and enduring fix as we’ll have for righting the ship of state.
Ruled by Regulation
Most Americans believe that legislation passed by Congress is what has screwed up our daily lives, from education to health care to the exorbitant price of gasoline to the outrageous cost of groceries. That’s not surprising, because we’re taught in middle school and high school that the legislative branch makes the “laws” that govern the nation. Yet it’s even less surprising when you consider that public education is a government-run indoctrination cartel — one designed to mask the reality of American government in the 21st century.
The reality is that laws don’t rule our lives. Rules and regulations do, and they are practically devised out of whole cloth, implemented, and enforced by unelected bureaucrats in virtually countless departments and agencies within the executive branch. (I say countless because there’s no consensus as to the number of entities, but most estimate in the hundreds.) My wife and I served in the Trump administration. For almost two years, we witnessed with our own eyes the bureaucrats brazenly acting as a fourth branch of government, and an essentially unaccountable one at that.
A skeptic might retort, “But they’re not ‘unaccountable.’” Yes, a president is elected, and that individual oversees the 2.1 million bureaucrats in the executive branch. Plus, those bureaucrats — “the civil service” — are supposed to be apolitical. Well, they’re not. They took “hostile work environment” to some very weird places for President Trump’s appointees. What’s more, the president is only able to deploy between 7,000 and 9,000 appointees across the vast expanse of the executive branch.
What does this all mean? Alas, it means that presidential elections won by Republicans mean far less in terms of change. I wouldn’t go so far as to assert they are “pointless,” but it’s certainly trending in that direction. I’ll put it another way. Democrats who capture the White House don’t “push on an open door” regarding the administrative state and advancing their agenda. There isn’t even a door within the frame. There are only gleeful bureaucrats on the other side waiting to provide hot-stone massages to the commander in chief and his appointees. A Republican, however, who somehow manages to outsmart the deep state and gain access to the White House will be pressing against a triple-bolted, plate-steel vault door reinforced by concrete.
This is a DEFCON 1-level crisis for our system of government, and, by extension, our way of life. Bureaucrats, whether through the “interagency” or some other contrived mechanism, must no longer be able to fashion and effect policy independent of the president, the head of the branch in which they exist.
Abolish the Pendleton Act
Congress will never muster the will to abolish the Pendleton Act of 1883, which birthed the civil service. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, is now in a position to limit the scope of or overturn Chevron deference, which, through delegation to the executive branch, has supercharged rulemaking at the direct expense of lawmaking for nearly 40 years. Regardless, on day one of the next Republican administration, the president has to be prepared to sign executive orders to defang, if not destroy, this fourth branch of government, which functions in the shadows of the swamp and has managed to avoid genuine scrutiny for decades.
A starting point would be the resurrection of Executive Order 13957, signed by President Trump on Oct. 21, 2020, and revoked by President Biden on Jan. 22, 2021, which created a new category of federal positions: Schedule F. Moving “policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating” career employees into the category would have made them answerable to the president and thus more accountable to the American people.
On the presidential campaign trail, GOP candidates have spoken a lot about prospective policies pertaining to national security, energy, the economy, health care, education, and immigration. True, there have been calls to eliminate departments and agencies. Yet there has been too little discussion about comprehensively and systematically neutralizing these entities by attacking their foundation: the Pendleton Act.
There’s been talk here and there over the past few years of combatting the administrative state by cutting it up into pieces and shipping its parts out to different areas of the country. (“Let’s put the Department of Agriculture in Iowa because it produces a lot of corn. Also, we could staff it with normal people who live out there.”)
This is wrongheaded. Virtually anything the government touches goes sideways. Once a government entity lands, corporations, universities, and nonprofits rush in to seal their lips to the spigot of federal dollars. The strategy seems to come straight out of the left’s playbook as the government always makes conservative areas less conservative. This is why Tallahassee, Florida’s capital, is the bluest spot in the Sunshine State, which is otherwise markedly red.
Monitoring the Swamp
Along these lines, President Trump proclaimed on Truth Social that the new FBI building should be built neither in Virginia nor Maryland but right in the same spot where it sits today. He argued that the FBI “should be involved in bringing back D.C., not running away from it, especially the violent crime.” There’s an additional reason to keep our country’s “large and complex” enforcement agency based within the District of Columbia. D.C. isn’t a large place. It’s physically limited by the Potomac and Anacostia in the south and Maryland in the north. It’s much better to have the administrative state contained in one place for ease of monitoring.
I want to be clear. There is indeed a role for civil servants who carry out the everyday tasks of government. That’s not at all to demean those tasks, let alone the people responsible for them. It’s merely to say those tasks are procedural. There should, however, be no role for civil servants who operate autonomously in the executive branch. There never should have been one in the first place. The notion of a “professional” civil service that would be neutral was rooted from the outset in progressivism, specifically in an unadulterated faith in rationalism. It denies the intractable flaws of human nature. It’s also patently absurd according to Civics 101, not to mention a certain piece of parchment.
The mission of the next Republican president is straightforward: Make our government accord with the Constitution once more, and right away.
Jonathan Bronitsky is co-founder and CEO of ATHOS, a Washington-DC based public relations firm and literary agency. You can follow him on Twitter @jbronitsky.