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March 15, 2022

Trump’s Proposal to Beat the Deep State

An American president should be able to hire and fire federal employees as he pleases.

One of the surest signs that a fence-sitter has decided to run for office is a shift in the content of his speeches from the general to the specific. An example of this might be when he starts talking less about what a terrible job the incumbent is doing and more about what he himself would do if elected to office.

Consider the specificity of this policy proposal from Donald Trump, which he unveiled on Saturday at a rally in Florence, South Carolina: “We will pass critical reforms,” he said, “making every executive branch employee fireable by the president of the United States. The Deep State must and will be brought to heel.”

Think about it: Shouldn’t a chief executive be able to hire and fire staff as he pleases — especially a sitting U.S. president, whose job it is to carry out the agenda that got him elected? Which staff member is more likely to help a president enact his agenda — one who voted for him, or one who voted for the other guy?

The answer is obvious, but doing so isn’t easy, and this “Deep State” problem thus hampered much of Trump’s term in office. Rather than being able to fire executive branch employees who were hired during the Obama administration, Trump was forced to leave in place countless leakers, vandals, foot-draggers, and saboteurs — people like Alexander Vindman and Eric Ciaramella, whom the corrupt, complicit corporate media affectionately call “whistleblowers.” As it turns out, these two executive branch employees were instrumental in getting Trump impeached. Or what about the FBI’s Peter Strzok? Should a U.S. president be forced to retain staffers who might well hate his guts?

Or take the man who during the past two years has had more influence on our lives than any other member of the federal government: Anthony Fauci. Couldn’t Donald Trump have simply fired Fauci, who is the highest paid employee in the entire federal workforce? Amazingly, stunningly, the answer is “No.” As Matthew Tully writes at FedSmith: “Dr. Fauci is a career member of the Senior Executive Service (SES), a position classification created by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, and which went into effect under President Carter. Under Federal law, he can be fired if he is found to have engaged in "misconduct, neglect of duty, malfeasance, or failure to accept a direct reassignment or to accompany a position in a transfer of function,” is or to be “less than successful [in his] executive performance.”

It’s true that Trump could have removed Fauci from his leadership role on the COVID-19 Task Force, but Fauci would still have been able to exercise enormous influence from his existing role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which he’s held since 1984.

“The proponents of civil service reform,” writes Robert Spencer in PJ Media, “never envisioned a situation in which unelected and unaccountable opponents of a sitting president in the FBI, the Justice Department, and elsewhere would be determined to destroy the president — or at the very least make it impossible for him to carry out his policies — and could not be removed from their jobs because of civil service regulations.”

Power Line’s Steven Hayward, assessing the pros and cons of Trump’s proposal (the “con” being that DC has an overwhelming supply of leftists to continually replenish these civil service positions, whereas conservatives do not), thinks it might be a bad idea whose time has come: “It would have the merit of clarifying the character of our government, and attaching complete accountability to the president, who today dodges it by attributing unpopular actions to ‘independent agencies’ and other permanent organs of the administrative state. … If the permanent government today consciously considers itself as internal opposition (the ‘Resistance’!) to Republican presidents, what do we have to lose by enabling a president to fire hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats?”

On October 21, 2020, President Trump issued an executive order meant to address this issue. Its language, in part, said this:

Separating employees who cannot or will not meet required performance standards is important, and it is particularly important with regard to employees in confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating positions. High performance by such employees can meaningfully enhance agency operations, while poor performance can significantly hinder them. Senior agency officials report that poor performance by career employees in policy-relevant positions has resulted in long delays and substandard-quality work for important agency projects, such as drafting and issuing regulations.

Executive orders, though, do not have the force of law. And if a U.S. president is to be held accountable for the job he does in office, he should be able to make his own hiring and firing decisions.

It won’t be easy. Indeed, the Beltway Swamp, which Trump vowed to drain, actually grew in size and stature during his term in office. As Adam Andrzejewski of OpenTheBooks.com reports for Forbes: “President Trump was holding the headcount of the executive agencies roughly flat through at least 2018. Then, the pandemic driven spending caused a massive federal hiring spree in FY2020.”

Incidentally, a government job is great work if you can get it. As Andrzejewski further notes, excluding the U.S. Post Office and the Department of Defense, the average pay was north of $100,000 in 100 of 122 executive agencies and departments.

As for Trump’s proposal, he has at least one supporter. “Everyone is losing their mind about this,” said Ohio Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance, “but I’ve been calling for it at every town hall I do. Either the president controls the executive branch or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t, we don’t live in a Republic, we live in a civil service driven oligarchy.”

Quite so.

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