This post has been updated.
The Washington Post's Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker broke some news Sunday night: President Trump is launching top adviser Jared Kushner on a campaign to create a more efficient, business-like11 federal government.
And the White House has an illustrative metaphor for it: a SWAT team. Here's the crux:
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.
If you think you've heard this idea before, it's because you have.
Back in 2008, candidate Barack Obama plotted a pretty similar effort — complete with the SWAT metaphor and all. Here's how the campaign described it:
Barack Obama and Joe Biden will create a focused team within the White House that will work with agency leaders and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to improve results and outcomes for federal government programs while eliminating waste and inefficiency. This unit, a SWAT team, will be composed of top-performing and highly-trained government professionals and be headed by a new Chief Performance Officer (CPO) who will report directly to the president. The CPO will work with federal agencies to set tough performance targets and hold managers responsible for progress. The president will meet regularly with cabinet officers to review the progress their agencies are making toward meeting performance improvement targets.
There are some differences, of course. The Obama effort seemed more narrowly tailored, while Trump's is focused on potentially privatizing government functions. But the overall goal is the same: a more businesslike, accountable federal government. And for that, they apparently both needed the SWAT team.
Business executive Jeffrey D. Zients, who would later head up the Office of Management and Budget and Obama's National Economic Council, was chosen to be this chief performance officer — the Kushner role, essentially — and confirmed in June 2009. And PolitiFact notes that his office was pretty busy.
Oh, and then there was Hillary Clinton's education SWAT team, which she discussed in a March 2016 debate with Sen. Bernie Sanders as a way to deal with another form of struggling and inefficient government bureaucracy: schools.
“Number three, I want to set-up inside the Department of Education, for want of a better term, kind of an education SWAT team, if you will,” she said. “Where we've got qualified people, teachers, principals, maybe folks who are retired, maybe folks who are active, but all of whom are willing to come and help.”
And there was President George W. Bush's “financial crimes SWAT team” to root out white-collar crime in 2002. And there was President George H.W. Bush's SWAT team for collecting billions in unpaid government debts identified by OMB.
It was even identified as such in official White House documents, per Andrew Rudalevige, a contributor Bowdoin College professor and contribute to The Post's Monkey Cage blog:
Back in 1993, when he was President Bill Clinton's nominee to lead OMB, then-Rep. Leon Panetta explained why he wasn't a fan of such a SWAT team approach:
I think we all recognize that the SWAT team approach is a symptom of management problems, not a way in itself to ensure good management. While SWAT teams may be necessary in the future, our goal should be to establish better management procedures which make it possible to discover problems early and to provide for comprehensive remedies. ... If confirmed, I would take a careful look at these alternative approaches, but I would not hesitate to use SWAT teams in extreme cases.
The tradition continues.