Several Trump agency heads recently took turns boasting about how they're slashing the budgets and powers of their own agencies.
Trump's war on the administrative state is going well, unfortunately. So well that federal agencies are being robbed of their decision-making power.
On Wednesday, several Trump officials bragged to the conservative Heritage Foundation that they have succeeded in shifting power away from federal employees and into the hands of state and local governments — and even certain individuals.
This stance deliberately obscures a critical fact: It is literally the job of those federal employees to make decisions about regulatory matters. They're trained for it. They're often subject-matter experts, a trait that was valued by the Obama administration but is routinely scorned by agency heads under Trump.
During the Heritage Foundation session, for example, current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Andrew Wheeler told a story about a farmer hiring him to help clarify whether a portion of the farmer's land fell under federal water rules.
Wheeler explained that an Army Corps of Engineers inspector shouldn't have been the person to decide the issue, because the farmer thought the decision violated EPA rules. Wheeler went on to say that he wanted to "take that individual discretion and have it with the owner of the property."
Of course, leaving discretion with corporations and property owners creates a huge problem. Corporations and individual property owners have no incentive at all to preserve or maintain resources for anyone except themselves. But under Trump, this is the new normal.
There are numerous examples of agencies turning over power to precisely the wrong people. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) was once a consumer protection powerhouse but is now an entity that rewards big banks even when they screw over customers. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) no longer protects the environment, but it does join forces with climate change deniers. The Department of Education no longer helps protect students from shady loans.
When speaking to the Heritage Foundation, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Russ Vought, boasted that Trump wasn't just slashing agency budgets to save money. The administration is also cutting agency budgets to weaken their power because domestic agencies "are getting in the way of the American people."
Make no mistake: The destruction of the administrative state will long outlast Trump. Indeed, the officials who spoke to the Heritage Foundation are "confident their cultural changes would outlive the Trump administration."
Senior civil service officials are leaving government work at an alarming rate. Scientists are fleeing the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the wake of forced relocation to Kansas City. Climate and food science advisory committees have been disbanded.
Those things won't magically be undone if a Democrat wins the presidency in 2020. It's going to be a long road back, even with a win.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.