Don’t just trim it – kill it!

The Federalist suggests a way for President Trump to deal with the bloated, overgrown bureaucracy of the federal government.

The presidential transition directory, known as the Plum Book, lists more than 4,000 politically appointed positions for a new administration to fill during its term (or terms). Those political appointees are supposed to go into the various departments of government and implement the new president’s agenda. But they leave when the president leaves, and in the case of conservatives, their meager reforms usually go with them.

It’s time for Republicans to have a reality check: do you really think that fewer than 5,000 appointees can win against 2.8 million federal government employees who have a vested interest in absolutely nothing changing? Maybe, if an administration had 20 years, but it doesn’t. It has four, maybe if they’re lucky eight, years, and as history has shown us, the odds of any party getting three straight terms of a single party in the White House are fairly slim. We have already seen bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, and State Department not only promise, but also begin to resist any reforms from the Trump administration.

But it’s worse than simply having millions of federal government employees trying to outlast a Republican administration. The overwhelming majority of those federal employees who donated to a presidential campaign, more than 95 percent, gave money to Hillary Clinton. Ninety-nine percent of contributions from State Department employees went to Clinton in the 2016 elections. You can be sure they aren’t excited to be working for Trump.

. . .

If Trump wants to devolve power out of DC, he has to shut departments down. Take the Department of Energy and put the nuclear weapons management under Department of Defense (or even Commerce, as Reagan wanted, to keep nuclear protection in civilian hands), split energy issues between Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Interior, then shut its doors. Roll any necessary parts of Department of Education into Labor and send other responsibilities back to the states, then shut its doors.

Once departments are shut down, bulldoze the buildings to the ground. Shatter them, plow them under, then build beautiful parks, Liberty Parks, over where the departments used to stand. Trump should also then consider “farming” some departments out to states, further breaking the leviathan apart.

. . .

President Trump and the GOP have a chance to conserve the original principles of the country, that government is limited to protect the rights of the people, not provide them everything they want or need. If Trump can change the rules, he’ll change history.

There’s more at the link.

I can’t argue with any of that.  The federal bureaucracy has grown to the point where it’s essentially self-supporting and self-governing, illustrating the truth of Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy.

In any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:

First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

The only way to break that iron control of the federal bureaucracy is to get rid of it – controllers, bureaucrats, the lot.  Obviously, we can’t do that to the whole thing;  but a few sacrificial departments, cut to ribbons and then destroyed entirely, will do much to concentrate the minds of those who remain.  Hopefully, they’ll be reminded that they are public servants, not public masters.



  1. Give Trump some time, he's just getting his people in place in the various agencies. If he were to propose eliminating any of them this quickly, he could not possibly have reasonable plans in place

    His massive cuts to the various agencies is a good early step.

    The requirement for every agency to start documenting what they can cut is good (it gets some of the bureaucrats to be evaluated on how much they can cut)

    given a bit of time for this process to work, and additional budget cuts, and things will be much better positioned to take the steps listed above. Moving too fast would just move bodies around and change titles, not dig out the root cause.

    In Education, pushing school choice and block-granting funds back to the states is a good first step to shutting down that part of the Executive Branch (it's only been around since Carter)

  2. "Limited government" is disproven by Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy. Any government, any monopoly, any single-source vendor situation imposed by force, is simply a different starting point on the exponential growth curve of government described by Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy. The smallest known government grows to collapse in about 200 years.

  3. Pournelle does not believe in Pournelle's law. If he did, he would not be advocating bureaucracy, but instead would be an extreme libertarian.

  4. 'Pour encourager les autres'

    A quote from Voltaire's 'Candide', often used in the context of political punishment and persecution. The full quote is "dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres" ('in england, it is good, from time to time, to kill an admiral, to encourage the others'), and refers indirectly to the unfortunate fate of Admiral John Byng, who was executed in 1756 at the outbreak of the Seven Years' War.

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