President Trump plans to unveil a new White House office on Monday with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises — such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction — by harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions.
The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements.
The timing of this announcement, coming on the heels of Trump’s high-handed and ultimately losing strategy on health care, could not be less propitious. Kushner’s time might be better spent teaching his father-in-law how government cannot be run like a business. As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) put it on Sunday, “You cannot run the presidency like you run a real estate deal. You can’t tweet your way through it. You can’t threaten and intimidate and say I’ll walk away. It’s more complicated.” He might have added:
- You cannot run the presidency by hiring inexperienced relatives and political propagandists with no governing skill.
- You cannot run government without transparency and accountability. This is not a family real estate operation.
- You cannot run government with the attention span of a 3-year-old, unable to be bothered with details or stick with one topic for very long.
- You cannot run government by intimidation and insult. Governing is an activity involving persuasion and conciliation.
- And you obviously cannot run the White House, as Trump is trying to, with overlapping and conflicting power centers, including Kushner’s SWAT team, that undermine the authority of Cabinet secretaries.
In the most pedestrian sense, executive skills including team-building, drive and determination can be applied in both public and private spheres. But frankly, after the cliches have been spouted, it should become readily apparent that government is not at all like a business and cannot be run as a business. The president does not have the power to unilaterally hire and fire thousands of people in his own branch, let alone control the other branches. In government, you have the obligation to turn over harmful information to critics. In government, you do not have the luxury of discontinuing certain functions (e.g., Social Security, the military) because they are too complicated or expensive.
This is not to say that government cannot be reformed. However, reform of government (in, say, education and criminal justice) requires subject-matter expertise of which Kushner has none. Reform in government entails policy objectives (what is the outcome you want?) rather than simply rewriting org charts. We are quickly learning that “making it more like business” is a misguided notion. The aim for this administration should be to be better at governing and not spend years fruitlessly attempting to turn the federal government into Trump Inc.
Kushner would be wise to:
- Recommend that Trump fire those who have contempt for democratic values and good governance (e.g., Stephen K. Bannon).
- Urge Trump to let Cabinet secretaries develop policy and run their departments without White House “spies” looking over their shoulders.
- Tell the president to get cracking on hiring career people and churning out political appointments. No more beachhead teams.
- Tell Trump to start learning policy and stop tweeting.
In other words, Kushner should tell his father-in-law he is doing just about everything wrong. Then, if Trump has not fired him, Kushner should resign because he has no expertise and contributes to the overlapping spheres of power and ill-defined roles of Trump officials.