On September 6, 1901, an anarchist/socialist — an antifa of his day — shot President William McKinley, who died eight days later. Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office, becoming our twenty-sixth president.
One of the earliest progressives, Roosevelt was alarmed at the concentration of wealth and power he saw in many areas of the economy. He started a campaign of trust-busting, breaking up 44 large corporations and creating the Department of Commerce and Labor.
Roosevelt could scarcely have imagined that, in creating the administrative state, he was creating a monster that would concentrate wealth and power to an extent that might have astounded the so-called robber barons. Administrative agencies function outside the Constitutional framework, making rules with minimal public influence and accountability. They adjudicate cases with little regard for due process. They function independently of the consent of the governed. Indeed, it’s hard to see how the governed can influence them. They are more powerful and more entrenched than the monopolies that troubled Roosevelt.
The president has made a good start, requiring that any proposed new regulation be accompanied by two to be dropped and requiring the appointment of regulatory review officers.
The past several months have shown, however, that the monster is hard to tame. There are already so many federal agencies that no one can count them. The Government Manual lists 96; USA.gov lists 137, with 268 components; Senator Grassley alleges more than 430. The federal government has about 2.7 million civilian employees.
What can be done to bring it under control?
Francis Buckley proposes that the president consider Andrew Jackson’s solution: fire ten percent of the federal workforce, replacing the people who need to be replaced with his own appointees. Certainly the president needs to reform the civil service, changing the rules under which government employees serve. Banning federal employee unions would help.
Glenn Reynolds suggests a revolving door surtax of at least 50 percent for any earnings in excess of their former government salary for anyone leaving federal service.
Chris Christie has attacked "burrowing," a political appointee’s conversion to a regular civil service position. Fred Fleitz proposes transferring and revoking security clearances of burrowed Obama appointees if they can’t be fired.
The president’s budget, following in FDR’s footsteps, mandates that employees pay more toward retirement, reduces cost-of-living adjustments, and brings pension costs under control.
I suggest taking a page from Teddy Roosevelt: Break up the administrative state, the biggest trust of all.
First, follow the practice of the trust-busters. Break up large federal departments into smaller, more manageable agencies. The Department of Energy, for example, funds research into energy production and climate change, oversees programs for science education, runs national laboratories, issues loans to clean energy initiatives, and manages the nation’s nuclear stockpiles. Why are those activities, assuming they ought to exist at all, part of the same department?
Or, look at the Department of Commerce, which manages “the Decennial Census, the National Weather Service, NOAA fisheries, and the Foreign Commercial Service. Among many other functions, the Department oversees ocean and coastal navigation, helps negotiate bilateral free and fair trade, and enforces laws that ensure a level playing field for American businesses.”
Second, move agencies out of Washington. According to 2016 employment data, the federal government employs about 523 thousand civilians in Washington, Maryland, or Virginia. Spread them across economically depressed rural areas close to problems they’re supposed to solve. Why, for example, does the Department of Agriculture have twelve thousand employees in the greater DC area? Shouldn’t they be, you know, close to some farms? What about the Department of the Interior? Why do they have eight thousand employees there? Shouldn’t they be in the interior?
Maybe, if federal employees were closer to the people whose interests they are supposed to represent, they’d do a better job of it. The ones who would decline to move from the D.C. metro area to, say, Wheeler County, Georgia, or Jefferson County, New York, we might be better off without. The federal workforce might shrink voluntarily, with those with the bluest sympathies the first to go.
Daniel Bonevac is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. Author of five books, most recently, "Ideas of the Twentieth Century," and editor or co-editor of four others, he has published over sixty articles in professional journals. He has also written for The Washington Post, The Critique, and The American Spectator. His massively open online course, "Ideas of the Twentieth Century," has enrolled over 50,000 students. He is co-founder of BriefLogic, a marketing communication firm. He is also a contemporary Christian musician and songwriter; you can hear his music on his daughter’s debut album, "Transfiguration." To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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