“I do not rule Russia,” Czar Nicholas is reputed to have said, “ten thousand clerks do.” Those words might take on particular significance for Donald Trump, should he be elected president. Like Czar Nicholas, a President Trump might find himself thwarted and undermined by the clerks–the federal civil servants.
Federal civil servants have become a kind of protected nobility–they cannot be fired even for incompetence or obstruction. As a result, the federal bureaucracy has set itself up as an unaccountable, decadent, and partisan 4th branch of government. Since the bureaucrats are relatively unassailable, they have considerable leeway to act in their own self interest, which usually concurs closely with the interest of the Democrat Party. The 4th branch remains perpetually under Democrat control.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 ended the ‘spoils system’ by making it unlawful to fire bureaucrats for partisan reasons. The idea was to create a federal bureaucracy that was competent, professional, and relatively non-partisan. Instead, more than 130 years later, we have a federal bureaucracy that is full of incompetents and viciously partisan.
During the Obama Era, the partisanship and unprofessionalism of the 4th branch has been on vivid display. In one of the more appalling scandals in American history, IRS bureaucrats unlawfully hindered and harassed ‘tea party’ groups in order to diminish their influence on the 2012 election. Then the IRS engaged in a massive cover-up and obstruction of the ensuing Congressional investigation. Most recently, the FBI for political reasons refused to recommend criminal charges against the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee.
Amidst all this partisan, unlawful, and unprofessional behavior, it is worth noting that no bureaucratic whistleblowers have stepped forward, and no bureaucrats have resigned on principle. Apparently, the bureaucrats practice situational ethics–they take ethical stands only against Republican administrations.
And so, the partisan and corrupt federal bureaucracy that bent over for Obama is now preparing to dig in its heels against Trump. According to the Lawfare blog (affiliated with the Brookings Institution), members of the ‘national security’ bureaucracy are experiencing ‘anxiety’ over the prospect of a Trump presidency.
I am not sure I have ever seen this cadre of professionals more unsettled than they are, as a group, today. It is not uncommon to hear people asking themselves whether they could continue in their current roles under Trump. It is not uncommon to hear people ruminate about whether the right course would be to resign or to stay and act as a check—which translates roughly to being an obstructionist of some sort or another.
These high-minded professionals are dreading Trump, but they had no problem with the lawless Obama administration which featured, among others things, a Secretary of State who was running a virtual shadow government, and in the process exposing America’s secrets to America’s enemies in order to keep the truth from America’s people. That self-same Secretary of State is now Donald Trump’s election opponent, but despite her record of reckless disregard for national security she somehow inspires less anxiety among the national security ‘professionals.’ It is to laugh.
Note well the part about the bureaucrats proposing to “act as a check” by “being an obstructionist.” What gives unelected bureaucrats, however, the right to obstruct the president elected by the people? Who do they think they are?
Our constitution does provide a system of checks and balances against executive power. But those checks come from the Congress and the Supreme Court–not the civil service.
Of course, no civil service employee is obligated to follow orders he believes to be immoral or unlawful. If any bureaucrat believes he cannot in good conscience carry out administration policy, he is free to resign, and if he sees fit, to go public with his objections.
But our system of government never intended to set up the federal civil service as a kind of peerage, like the British House of Lords, that can counteract the policies of elected officials and their appointees.
The federal bureaucracy must be brought to heel, but for the longest time we’ve believed that nobody would ever do anything about it. We were therefore surprised and gratified to hear that Governor Chris Christie, acting as Trump’s agent, reportedly discussed the topic of civil service reform with some fat cat GOP donors.
If he wins the presidency, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump would seek to purge the federal government of officials appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama and could ask Congress to pass legislation making it easier to fire public workers, Trump ally, Chris Christie, said on Tuesday.
Christie, who is governor of New Jersey and leads Trump’s White House transition team, said the campaign was drawing up a list of federal government employees to fire if Trump defeats Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 presidential election.
“As you know from his other career, Donald likes to fire people,” Christie told a closed-door meeting with dozens of donors at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, according to an audio recording obtained by Reuters and two participants in the meeting.
Christie seems particularly concerned with the practice of ‘burrowing,’ by which political appointees get their status converted to protected civil servants who can’t be fired. But rather than focusing just on burrowing, the GOP should consider replacing the 1883 Civil Service Act in order to finally allow the president to fire bureaucrats for incompetence or obstruction.
The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union in the United States, said while it was concerned about the practice of “burrowing,” current law protected most federal employees from at will firing.
“The federal government is a serious undertaking. It’s not a reality TV show, with ‘You’re fired!'” said Jacqueline Simon, policy director at AFGE.
Most everybody else in America can be fired for not doing their job. Why should you federal employees be different? Why should you be more privileged than the rest of us?
Christie’s comments caused the liberal tabloid Slate to take to its well-worn fainting couch.
Obviously, some appointees come and go with a new president, and that makes complete sense—you need your people in key positions—but what Christie is proposing resembles more of a witch hunt where federal staffers will be judged by their loyalty to the regime.
But why shouldn’t they be judged on the basis of loyalty? Their job is to loyally carry out the president’s policies. That’s their job and why they are paid. They’re not paid for their disloyal pursuit of their own agendas. Why should the taxpayers pay to employ bureaucrats who are disloyal to the president the taxpayers have elected?
We’re glad to hear that Trump and Christie have at least some awareness of the problem, but in order to secure the political support needed to achieve real reform, they should take their case to the people. Trump should be running against the federal bureaucracy.