President Trump, used to dazzling the gullible with showmanship and exaggerated promises (lies, in other words), seems to think that the federal government can be run by 20 of his closest aides. He imagines — or would have us imagine — that tweeting or sending out a raft of executive orders constitutes governing. This confusion is to be expected from someone who has never run a government entity (or even a public company) and who surrounds himself with those equally devoid of government experience.
If we look at a number of his executive orders, we see that many are simply vague instructions for agencies and departments to write reports. NBC recently listed all of them, including:
“Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch”
Signed: March 13, 2017
The order assigns the Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney to propose a plan to “reorganize and governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies” in an effort to cut down of federal spending and improve “efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of that agency.” Within 180 days, the heads of select agencies must submit individual plans to Mulvaney, who will have another 180 days to send a plan to the president.
During a daily press briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer called the executive order “long overdue” and said agencies will undergo a “thorough investigation” into fiscal waste, though he was unable to provide a target goal for the amount of money the order aims to save.
Another one sets out a “Buy American, Hire American” concept:
The order has two parts. The “Hire American” portion of the bill targets the H-1B visa program, which allows businesses to hire high-skilled workers from outside the U.S., by putting less emphasis on the lottery system used to determine which companies can sponsor visas.
The “Buy American” portion of the order directs agencies to tighten rules that give priority to U.S. companies when hiring contractors or purchasing goods. This would be done by reducing the use of waivers and exceptions to current laws. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross must submit a review of “Buy American” loopholes within 220 days.
Still others concern apprenticeships, reducing tax burdens, trade agreements, rural prosperity and cybersecurity. Most simply require reports and recommendations back to the secretary. How are these going to be done, and how will the White House make sure these don’t turn into bureaucratic paper-pushing? Moreover, even if the departments generate reports, there is no assurance that these secretaries will direct any action to be taken or that their underlings will follow such direction.
The system is supposed to begin with secretaries who have strong managerial skills and put in place deputies, undersecretaries and assistant secretaries as well as chief operating officers (in some cases the deputy is also the COO) who would drive the process and ensure that meaningful work is done to further the administration’s overall policy objectives. Ah, that’s the rub.
The people responsible for all of this, in many cases, have not been named, let alone confirmed. For example, a spokesperson for the Partnership for Public Service (which has partnered with The Post to track appointments) tells me that “of the 15 deputy secretaries in Cabinet departments who by law serve as COOs, only four have been confirmed.” A new report from the Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton explains:
It is the more than two dozen presidentially appointed chief operating officers who will have much of the responsibility for guiding management changes. However, the nomination process for COOs and other political appointees has been slow, so many of the leaders who are expected to manage the directives in the president’s executive orders are not in place. If COOs are going to reorganize government, they will need to work together, using their collective resources, experiences, insights and abilities. The goal is a government that is more responsive, effective and accountable to the American people.
If any of the president’s executive orders are to translate into action, the people who are to run the agencies must be in place and be held accountable. To a significant degree, that isn’t happening:
The Trump administration’s March executive order makes agencies accountable to OMB for coming up with a reform plan that includes near-term actions to reduce the workforce and maximize employee performance. However, it does not explicitly hold political appointees accountable for results on what they propose nor for the pace of accomplishing those goals. Neither does the federal performance management system include a requirement that the roughly 4,000 political appointees have performance plans that define success or hold them accountable for their agency’s results. Only career civil servants fall under the federal performance management system.
Trump, unable or unwilling to work with Congress to obtain results, put out a flurry of executive orders to create the impression of movement. But without anyone in the White House with substantial government skills, many positions left open and Cabinet secretaries chosen in many cases for ideological reasons and not management strength, it’s quite possible that very few of these ambitious directives ever get translated into results.
In a sense this is pure Trump — a salesman who can create TV moments and con the uninformed but who accomplishes nothing close to his promised results. Unfortunately, there is very little to indicate that the executive orders will do more than sit in a drawer or be hyped as evidence that the president supposedly has accomplished more than any president but FDR (!) in the first months of his presidency. In short, these orders very well may turn out to be as worthless as a diploma from Trump University.